Unions rally in support of proposed ACT jobs code
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Unions rally in support of proposed ACT jobs code

Normally when hundreds of union members descend on the ACT Legislative Assembly waving flags and chanting, it's because they're "throwing bricks at the place" over one policy or another, as Klaus Pinkas from the Transport Workers Union wryly noted.

But on Thursday, it was because they supported the proposed Local Jobs Code that Workplace Relations Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith released last month.

Members of ACT unions rally outside the ACT Legislative Assembly.

Members of ACT unions rally outside the ACT Legislative Assembly.Credit:Katie Burgess

The code is a formalisation of a longstanding agreement between the Barr government's and Unions ACT, in which the territory agreed not to award tenders to companies that did not comply with workplace safety laws, had underpaid workers or did not have cooperative industrial relations practices.

Barely audible in parts over the sound of garbage trucks blaring their horns as they lapped the Assembly - their drivers are members of the union - Ms Stephen-Smith said unions needed to keep the fight up until the jobs package was passed.

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Union members march on the Assembly in support of a proposed local jobs code.

Union members march on the Assembly in support of a proposed local jobs code. Credit:Katie Burgess

"The bill, the Secure Local Jobs Code, the other elements of this Secure Local Jobs Package are about the values we share as a labor movement," Ms Stephen-Smith said.

"This is about the fact workers deserve fair pay, workers deserve secure entitlement, workers have a right to organise and to be represented by their union.

Unions like the CFMEU and the Transport Workers' Union marched on the Assembly.

Unions like the CFMEU and the Transport Workers' Union marched on the Assembly. Credit:Katie Burgess

"This about the ACT government saying, we are setting a standard for contractors that do work with the ACT government, there is a standard we expect them to uphold amongst their businesses and there is a standard we expected to see."

Under draft laws introduced into the Assembly last month, companies that want to tender for ACT government work will need to be audited to prove they have not ripped off their workers.

Companies that passed the audit would also have to comply with the new jobs code, or risk being locked out of tendering for territory work for one year.

Unions say the jobs code is needed to stamp out wage theft and exploitation on government contracts.

The CFMEU piled pressure on Ms Stephen-Smith in the week leading up to the introduction of the bill, blitzing letterboxes with flyers accusing her of abandoning workers.

The union filed a lawsuit in the Federal Court last month alleging workers on Canberra's light rail project had been underpaid $700,000, and secretary Jason O'Mara said at the time his members were outraged taxpayer money had gone to an employer that had ripped them off.

However industry believes the legislation could drive up the cost of public projects, or force companies to choose between working for the ACT government or the Commonwealth.

There are also concerned the code will conflict with Federal Building Code, however the ACT government says it will not contravene any federal industrial laws.

Ms Stephen-Smith dismissed fears about the extra red tape the jobs code would place on business.

"It's about saying that those businesses who treat their workers fairly, who uphold their rights  actually don't get undercut by dodgy bosses who are doing the wrong thing by their workers. That's what this bill and this package is all about," Ms Stephen-Smith said.

The draft laws have been referred to an ACT parliamentary committee, due to report back by the end of September.

Katie Burgess is a reporter for the Canberra Times, covering ACT politics.

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