CFMEU recovers millions in lost wages while regulator refuses to act

Published: 9 Dec 2021

CFMEU recovers millions in lost wages while regulator refuses to act

The CFMEU has recovered more than $17 million in unpaid wages and entitlements for construction workers since the start of this financial year, while the ABCC recovered just $1 million, proving yet again the Morrison Government's politicised building regulator is unwilling to use its vast resources to tackle underpayment and wage theft in the industry.

“The ABCC continually fails to take serious action on the wage theft, sham contracting and widespread non-payment of money owed to subcontractors now rampant in the industry despite having a budget in excess of $80 million per annum and the same coercive powers as a Royal Commission,” said Dave Noonan, CFMEU National Construction Secretary.

“Underpayment is rife in construction with PwC estimating construction workers are underpaid $320 million every year. PwC’s 2019 modelling revealed construction workers, who make up 10% of the national workforce, account for a shocking 25% of the total $1.5 billion in underpayments experienced by workers across the entire economy every year.”

“Late payment of builders and subcontractors by developers is also a scourge in the industry, with recent data showing late payment in construction worsened by 5.2% in the June quarter. Big developers routinely withhold payments worth hundreds of millions of dollars owed to builders and subcontractors for work already done, placing a massive financial burden on the subcontractors who employ the majority of construction workers.”

“When these builders and subcontractors go to the wall it is the union, not the ABCC, that steps in to recover workers’ wages and entitlements.”

“This includes $4 million recovered for more than 200 construction workers in recent days in NSW who were facing a bleak summer after major gyprock and fitout company, Cubic, went into liquidation. In this instance the union recovered unpaid wages and entitlements, including superannuation.”

“Last week the ABCC was congratulating itself for recovering $1 million over five months from July to November 2021. During the same time the CFMEU has recovered in excess of $17 million in wages and entitlements for workers.”

“The ABCC says it has recovered a grand total of $4 million in underpayments since it was reconstituted in 2016, which is a pittance when you consider that the CFMEU has recovered more than 4 times that much in the last 5 months alone.”

“The ABCC's own annual reports show the regulator has gone backwards on wage recovery over the last two years, with the regulator recovering less money for fewer employees in 2020-21 ($902,464 for 1,448 employees) than it did in the previous 2019-20 financial year ($1,117,330 for 1741 employees).”

“According to the ABCC’s website there is only one current prosecution in relation to payment of wages and entitlements. By contrast, there are twenty-five other current matters directed at workers and their unions.”

“Since it was reinstated in 2016, the ABCC has not prosecuted a single case of sham contracting in the courts, despite the problem being rampant in the industry.”

“Fake umpire McBurney blows hard when attacking unions but swallows his whistle when builders and developers steal money from workers and subbies.”

“The ABCC's excuse for their inaction on wage theft makes no sense. They say that they want the union to refer underpayments to them when the union has already recovered the underpayments.”

“What would that achieve?”

“Why doesn’t McBurney just instruct his inspectors to do their job, instead of turning a blind eye to rampant wage theft?”

“The ABCC isn’t serious about wage theft. It spends more time and resources trying to ban union stickers and Eureka flags. It is a hopelessly politicised regulator that sells workers short and must be abolished.”