Rights and Responsibilities of Construction Workers
The construction industry has been considered a priority industry in Australia. It is one of the most important industries because it provides our infrastructures such as roads, electricity, and water supply as well as our buildings, homes, schools, hospitals, and more. Our daily tasks are dependent on all these things.
While we enjoy the benefits on a day-to-day basis, let us consider those people who are responsible in one way or another for the success of the construction industry – the construction workers and contractors. They toil and labour every day, and their rights and benefits should not be overlooked. Both construction workers and contractors have rights and responsibilities, but in this article, let us focus on those which apply to employed construction workers.
Right to undertake industrial action. Disputes can hardly ever be avoided in any workplace. To resolve these matters, an employer, employee or industrial association may undertake industrial action; however, this is unlawful in many circumstances in Australia.
According to Fair Work Building and Construction Australia, industrial action is defined as “the refusal by employees to perform work or the performance of work in a manner that is intended to reduce productivity in a workplace”. This is more commonly known as a strike by employees.
Participating in an industrial action is not compulsory but is a matter of choice. It is the right of any employee to refuse or agree to join in a strike. If an employee should decide to join in one, it is highly recommended that he or she fully mitigating understand the circumstances and to make sure that it is a protected industrial action to be taken.
In specific circumstances wherein there is a likely risk to their health and safety, employees have the right to stop or refuse to work and to request to be assigned other more appropriate and safer tasks. In the event that there is no safe work available, employers are required to continue paying their employees.
The rights and responsibilities of construction employees
Right of entry – This right is given to union officials who may, under certain circumstances, be allowed to enter worksites. These circumstances may be any of the following:
- If there is a breach in a workplace law and an investigation has to be conducted
- When there is a need to hold discussion meetings with employees
- When union officials exercise their right to conduct a Work Health and Safety inspections
Right against coercion – No employee should be forced or threatened to do what he or she does not want to do or to perform work that he or she does not want to perform for reasons that will conflict the individual’s freedom of choice. According to FWBC, coercion is defined as “the act of organising or taking action, or threatening to organize or take action against another person with the intent to coerce the person, or a third person to do something they do not want to do”.
Right to join or not to join a union – Also called the Freedom of Association, employees cannot be threatened, forced or pressured to join (or not to join) or leave a union by their employer or fellow employees. This right is protected by the Fair Work Act 2009 (FW Act).
Right against discrimination – Under the FW Act, adverse action taken against an employee or prospective employee for discriminatory reasons by an employer is unlawful. Some examples of such adverse actions are refusing to hire a prospective employee, firing an employee, changing an employee’s job to his or her disadvantage, and withholding an employee’s entitlements, among others. It is considered discrimination when these actions are taken against any person in the workplace due to such personal attributes like gender, sexual preference, age, mental or physical abilities, religion, marital status, personal responsibilities, pregnancy, national extraction, political views, social origin, race, and colour.
National Employment Standards
Aside from these specific rights of construction workers, they are also entitled to the minimum wage as well as all entitlements covered by the National Employment Standards (NES). The NES lists the minimum standards of employment entitlements that have to be provided to all employees regardless of the nature of their work. There are employers that offer employment contracts, enterprise agreements as well as awards; however, these must meet, if not exceed but never offer conditions that are less than what are stated in the NES.
The following are the 10 minimum standards stated in the NES, vis a vis:
- Maximum weekly hours – employees are required to render a maximum of 38 hours of work per work week.
- Requests for flexible working arrangements
- Parental leave and related entitlements
- Annual leave – also known as holiday pay
- Personal carer’s leave and compassionate leave – also known as the sick and carer’s leave, this allows employees to take time off from work due to personal sickness or to take care of family responsibilities and emergencies.
- Community service leave – this allows employees to take time off to attend voluntary emergency management activities and/or jury duties. Community service leave is unpaid leave except for time off taken for jury duties.
- Long service leave – this is given to employees who have given their services after a specific period of time (for example, after 5 years). This is dependent on the tenure of the employee’s services as well as the State or Territory where the employee is working.
- Public holiday – these are relative to the State or Territory where the employee is working.
- Notice of termination and redundancy pay – prior to the termination of any employee, ample time must be given as notice. This period is known as the notice period, upon which the redundancy entitlements are calculated.
- Fair Work Information Statement – every employee hired in a workplace has the right to have his or her own copy of the Fair Work Information Statement. This document states all the conditions of employment and other relevant information in relation to his/her employment.