A series of serious safety breaches uncovered at worksites across the ACT propelled the territory government to bring forward changes to the workplace safety act, but it's a move that has been slammed by the building industry.
It came as an additional 18 construction sites were shut down last week by industry safety watchdog WorkSafe ACT for breaches.
The changes would allow work health and safety entry permit-holders to take photos and video and audio recordings of suspected contraventions of the Work Health and Safety Act.
The amendments were due to be enforced in January, but ACT Minister for Employment and Workplace Safety Suzanne Orr signed off on legislation on Friday to bring the changes forward to Monday.
Ms Orr said this was in response to repeated inspections by WorkSafe ACT that showed serious breaches of work safety standards.
But Master Builders ACT slammed the minister for bringing forward the changes with only two days notice.
"We were completely shocked by this announcement," Master Builders ACT chief executive Michael Hopkins said.
"It goes to demonstrate the minister that's introduced the commencement notice has no understanding or sympathy for the impact that this is actually going to have on local businesses that now have to comply with these new rules with less than 48 hours notice."
A series of changes to the act were legislated in the assembly in July. Most of the amendments came into effect the day after they were introduced, but the sections related to filming were not meant to take effect until six months after the amendments were legislated.
However, during the second last sitting day of the ninth ACT Legislative Assembly the government moved to allow Ms Orr to bring the changes in earlier.
A spokesman for Ms Orr said the minister had moved to accelerate the amendments as soon as possible after WorkSafe ACT had discovered repeated breaches.
"It is not acceptable that someone conducting a safety inspection should have to walk by an unsafe condition and be prohibited from photographing or otherwise documenting that issue for later consideration by WorkSafe ACT," he said.
Businesses were informed of the changes via an email from WorkSafe ACT on Saturday morning.
Over the weekend Mr Hopkins wrote to Minister Orr asking for the changes to be rescinded and the changes pushed back to the original starting date in January 2021.
But Ms Orr's spokesman said this would not happen.
"This government recognises the importance of safe practices on workplaces and will not stand for unsafe conditions to go unaddressed because of a lack of evidence," he said.
Mr Hopkins said on Monday he received a response from Ms Orr on the changes but he still felt no clear explanation about why only 48 hours notice had been given.
He said he supported the crackdown from WorkSafe ACT but said he feared the new laws would outsource the role to the unions.
"These controversial laws will allow union officials, including those recently fined by the federal court, to video record workers, including apprentices, on ACT work sites," Mr Hopkins said.
The laws won't apply if it would result in a contravention of Commonwealth law but Mr Hopkins said the ACT government had still not provided clarity on this.
Mr Hopkins said he had asked WorkSafe ACT commissioner Jacqueline Agius to chair a meeting for MBA members on how the changes would affect the industry.
WorkSafe ACT has cracked down on unsafe construction sites in recent weeks as part of its so-called "Operation Safe Prospect".
Two weeks ago, 11 residential construction sites belonging to one local construction company were shut down after WorkSafe inspectors found more than 50 offences across the sites.
Action was taken against four construction sites last week and on Monday WorkSafe released a statement that 18 construction sites in Watson were shut down last week.
"I want to send a clear message to employers that it's time to lift their game and start making safety a priority for their workers," Ms Agius said.