Consultation, not confrontation the key to safety

Posted 11 May 2016

Consultation, not confrontation the key to safety

Samuel Johnson once said Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

The observation was not an attack on patriotism, but an indictment of the people who hide behind it to justify doing bad things.

Present day scoundrels prefer to use safety to seek public tolerance of their reprehensible behaviour.

Today any person who dares criticise the excesses of Canberras militant construction union is immediately accused of putting workers lives at risk.

Our enthusiastically non-critical media promotes the idea that the only concern of the union is safety. Vast sins are forgiven the rough diamonds in our midst because, and only because, they help keep workers safe.

But do they?

The harsh reality is that any credibility the CFMEU ACT had on safety is long gone.

When a Territory construction site is shut down by the union bovver boys on safety grounds everyone knows a demand hasnt been met. If you comply with all demands: sign the EBA, sign up members, pay donations and only ever use union approved people, all previously compelling safety issues miraculously disappear along with union officials.

The lawyers, school teachers and ex-footballers lack the safety expertise and experience that once lent old-school union safety officers respect and attention. The new breed is met with equal parts of derision and fear. They cant add anything on safety, but they can destroy your job and your business.

The good news for Canberra is we are moving beyond the bad old days where the only safety protection needed was a signature on a union EBA. Today we are empowering smart, capable, independent and respected safety experts through WorkSafe ACT. These true safety champions are simultaneously educating and holding construction teams to account.

Weve gone from amongst the most dangerous jurisdictions under the union/construction industry watch to one of the safest under the careful and cooperative approach of the independent regulator.

The heart of the success is a shift from confrontation to consultation in safety. Rather than bosses paying off unions for peace, we now have construction teams working constructively with government safety experts to actually make people safer. Where coercion, raised fists and abuse has failed; cooperation, handshakes and conversation seems to be working.

By definition the self-described militant union is a one trick pony. It is the absence of confrontation that is delivering results and the union is being left behind.

Little wonder that in a recent survey of 76 Canberra construction firms only one reported the CFMEU had helped on safety. And little wonder again that the CFMEU now represents less than one in 10 in our industry and the real number is rapidly falling.

Whether they are true scoundrels, or just desperate relics of a bygone past, its clear that sidelining the CFMEU ACT is delivering safer worksites.

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