A SURGE in days lost to strikes in construction has lifted the level of industrial disputation in Australia to its highest level since 2004 as the Gillard government again blamed the conservative states for the rise.
The latest increase - which saw days lost to industrial action reach 301,800 in the year to September - has renewed attacks on Labor's Fair Work Act. Days lost to strikes are now more than double the level of the 2008/09 financial year - the year before the Fair Work Act took effect.
The Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten, blamed state public sector disputes for the rise and also said the days lost to strikes were low by historical levels. ''Working days lost under the Fair Work Act are around one third the rate of the Howard government,'' Mr Shorten said. ''The recent examples of ongoing public sector disputes with state conservative governments show you can't trust the Liberals with IR.''
But while state wage disputes were a factor, the Grocon confrontation in central Melbourne in August and September appears to have been even more significant with a five-fold rise in days lost in construction for the September quarter.
Master Builders Association of Victoria executive director, Brian Welch, said there was a ''massive problem'' in the industry and said the ''white flag'' was raised to unions when the powers of the Australian Building and Construction Commission were watered down.
The Grocon dispute shut down part of central Melbourne after the dispute flared over the appointment of shop stewards at Grocon and the right to display union paraphernalia on sites.
The opposition workplace relations spokesman, Eric Abetz, said the eight year highs in days lost to strikes showed there were ''clear militancy problems that need to be addressed'' but said Labor and Mr Shorten would ''never turn against their trade union mates''.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary, Dave Oliver, said industrial action came in ''peaks and troughs'' affected by factors including the number of agreements up for renewal. Mr Oliver said one or two disputes can affect the figures.
''In this recent period, the disputes in the Victorian state school system and Queensland public service that are largely responsible, he said. ''In each case the blame rests with a government that refuses to negotiate fairly and honour its promises.''
The other sectors to record high numbers of days lost from strikes in the September quarter was education, healthcare and social assistance.
The story Strike days double in construction since Fair Work Act first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.