The Victorian Building Authority has determined that individual construction workers are solely liable for compliance of building works with permits issued to their employer, contractor or builder.
The conviction of subcontractor Johnathan Westmoreland over the Swanston Street wall collapse that killed three young people will have ramifications for the entire construction industry, the Building Industry Group (BIG) of unions has warned.
The prosecution by the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) of Mr Westmoreland is the first from the newly formed body. Its predecessor, the Building Commission was dismantled under the previous Liberal Government. The decision has implications for every worker in construction whose works require a building permit.
There are concerns in the industry to that the new body is trying to make a name for itself.
BIG Chair, Brian Boyd said, ‘They have pursued this prosecution without regard for the nature of the industry and they have ignored the commonly held understanding that the responsibility for building permits lie with the principle contractor, occupier or owner of the site.’
Following extensive legal advice, the BIG today will issue warnings to hundreds of employers, and thousands of construction workers, that they now all bear absolute individually liability for all works covered by building permits.
‘At this point, the industry faces the prospect of total disruption because every building worker on every job needs to know that all permits are in place and that they are aware of any updates.’ Mr Boyd said.
The BIG believes that individual construction workers may now be individually liable for fines of up to $73,805 each if they carry out building work where the required permit is not in place.
‘We now have a situation where a construction worker, at the end of a long chain of major builders and large subcontractors, can end up being charged, humiliated in court, handed a fine of up to $73,000 while the primary builder walks away scot free.’ Mr Boyd said.
The decision by the VBA to target Mr Westmoreland has drawn sharp criticism from industry figures and construction unions alike.
AMWU Assistant State Secretary, Craig Kelly said, 'This decision could have a very large detrimental effect on unsuspecting individual workers, who could be held liable for the compliance of their employers with building works permits. It's particularly concerning that these individual employees could be the ones who bear all the liability. The VBA and the government need to look at the practicalities, and fix this situation to ensure that all workers and passersby are safe and protected on building sites.'
CFMEU State Secretary, John Setka said, ‘Grocon is a tier-one builder and the primary builder on that site. Across the industry it is custom and practice for the principle contractor or occupier to be responsible for applying for and ensuring compliance with the building permits. Grocon was negligent, three young people are now dead as a result, and the bloke has had to wear it in court.’
ETU State Secretary, Troy Gray said, ‘This is a totally ludicrous, unworkable outcome that will harm productivity across the entire Victorian construction industry. Individual workers have no practical ability to control regulatory compliance of their employer, yet they will be held liable. This situation needs to be immediately addressed in a cooperative manner by industry and government.’
The BIG will inform all members of the implications of this decision and is seeking urgent meetings with the relevant ministers and industry stakeholders.