Denita Wawn, chief executive officer of Master Builders Australia said it was reasonable to manage one rostered day (RDO) off each fortnight.
“But shutting sites down for 10 consecutive days is completely different,” she said.
“It’s a symptom of construction union bullying that employers feel pressured to sign [enterprise bargaining agreements] where the unions have the power to dictate the timing of RDOs each year and insist that they are bundled around public holidays.
“It increases costs for restarting and shutting down sites and expensive equipment which is usually hired is idle for an extended period. Construction projects are subject to deadlines for completion and having sites shut down for 10 days is a long time for work not to occur. Unions can demand triple-time for workers to work on RDOs.”
CFMEU national secretary Dave Noonan said rostered days off had been grouped around the public holidays “at the insistence of employers” as part of enterprise bargaining agreements.
“The Master Builders know this perfectly well,” he said.
“This year has a close period of time between Easter and Anzac Day, therefore a lot of RDOs are being taken at this time of year.
“But it is mainly employers that have insisted on it and resisted a more regular allocation of RDOs.”
Mr Noonan said the Master Builders Association was not representing the interests of its members and “acting like a branch office of the Liberal Party”.
He said employers had insisted on bundling RDOs around public holidays to ensure continuity of site schedules and productivity.
“What this demonstrates is the Master Builders don’t negotiate many agreements any more. Employers prefer to do it directly because they know the [Master Builders] is no longer a genuine organisation of building industry employers,” he said.
Two national construction companies confirmed they had been aware of the calendar arrangements “well in advance” because they were negotiated as part of enterprise bargaining agreements.
Mr Noonan said building workers frequently work more than 60 hours per week. He said many people were working every Saturday and worked up to 12 hours a day, which made “lock-down weekends”, when work is prohibited, necessary to prevent unsafe hours for workers.
A spokesman for the CFMEU Victoria said “lock-down weekends are put in our calendar to help prevent fatigue on construction sites”.
“No one can work on a union job over a lock-down weekend unless there are exceptional circumstances that would need to be pre-approved,” the spokesman said.
Previously a spokesman for the CFMEU said “This way there’s no need for construction workers to use their personal leave or chuck a sickie over Easter, because they’ve worked for the days off”.
Transport NSW coordinator general Marg Prendergast said major construction work on Sydney’s CBD and South East Light Rail would continue during the Easter long weekend.
“Crews take advantage of the quieter period to get a significant amount of work done at major intersections in the CBD while roads are quieter,” she said.
Anna Patty is Workplace Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald. She is a former Education Editor, State Political Reporter and Health Reporter.