No ABN/No Start: Changes in work organisation and their impact on labour standards in the NSW construction industry 1980 - 2011

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Copyright: Sutton, John
This research explores changing forms of work organisation in the NSW construction industry 1980-2011 and examines how labour standards for construction workers were affected by them. Three main non-Standard Employment Relations (SER) arrangements are considered: self-employed sub-contracting, labour hire/agency work and guestworkers. These precarious employment practices are examined using quantitative and qualitative research methods. Statistical data are used to track their increased use; then evidence and findings from thirteen public inquiries held between 1979 and 2011 are interrogated using a ‘critical theory’ methodology. Conclusions are drawn about how and why precarious arrangements became entrenched in the NSW construction industry. The evidence demonstrates that major employer interests worked pro-actively with their political allies to protect and extend the reach of these ‘flexible’ forms of work organisation. The spread of self-employed sub-contracting from the housing sector to the whole construction industry is a particular focus. The growth of ‘sham contracting’ was something employer interests consistently denied but strategically fostered. The widespread use of tax avoidance is identified as the central element allowing employers and their political supporters to deregulate the labour market in a strongly-unionised industry. Advocates of neo-liberal policy prescriptions such as the Productivity Commission, and Royal Commissioners selected by LNP Coalition governments, played a significant role in spreading these work arrangements. For employers these poorly regulated forms of work organisation meant lower labour costs and traditional business obligations passed to others less able to bear those risks. For construction workers the consequences were: reduced labour standards through irregular income; work intensification; exposure to unsafe workplaces; and an absence of short and long term social protections.
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Sutton, John
Quinlan, Michael
Gregson, Sarah
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Masters Thesis
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