A mass meeting of 6000 Victorian building workers, members of the CFMEU, in late August, voted to accept the latest EBA put to them by the union officials.

With a 15 per cent pay rise over three years and what’s described as “rolling over” all existing conditions, the vote was almost unanimous. The officials were happy to tread water and await Rudd’s new union laws in 2009 or 2010.

However, it was a lazy EBA in four ways. While there are 26 RDOs in a year, the way they are distributed around various public holidays and long weekends, means there are six months where there is only one RDO over two fortnights, instead of two.

There are still anomalies in pay rates, where workers doing the same job are not paid the same rate. Some crane crew are paid $4 an hour less than others. Yet some of the major builders are posting record profits. Leightons announced a 37 per cent profit lift in May.

Labour hire is a major blight on the industry, with an estimated 60 per cent of workers with labour hire firms. The existing EBA clause to “look into and monitor labour hire” means three more years of “looking into and monitoring,” and no concrete action to get workers onto the major companies’ payrolls and away from periodic unemployment.

Finally, as Solidarity argued in July, “The Master Builders’ Association [MBA] plays a double-dealing game. On the one hand it will be ‘cooperative’ and sign off on EBAs with the union but on the other hand it backs the ABCC to intimidate and prosecute the CFMEU for union activities.”

The union missed a great opportunity to link the signing off on the EBA with a demand to scrap the ABCC. As late as mid-August Radley De Silva, deputy executive director of the MBA Victoria, had a column in the Herald-Sun, extolling the virtues of the ABCC. The Financial Review reported in August, “Major builders support the ABCC’s existing powers… because they claim the agency has helped clean up the building industry and drive productivity improvements.”

Instead, the officials put an artificial wall between our EBA and the continued existence of the ABCC.

Of course, the brave stand of Noel Washington, the CFMEU official facing jail for refusing to be interrogated by the ABCC, was highlighted at the mass meeting and we will be going out on strike in October when Noel’s trial starts. But the separation of the two issues meant that a chance to use our economic muscle to win this political demand was lost.

Five percent means we are only just keeping up with inflation. More could have been won. An EBA without any hint of a fight means we don’t exercise our muscle, or deepen members’ understanding of the MBA’s double-dealing. A lot more will be needed in the fight to abolish the ABCC.

By a CFMEU member

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