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Calls for compulsory licences for Canberra trades in bid to improve safety, quality of construction projects

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In an unlikely alliance, five of Canberra’s biggest construction companies have joined forces with the union to call on the ACT government to introduce trade licensing requirements for several trades.

Currently, in the ACT, workers do not need formal accreditation to call themselves a joiner, carpenter, painter, tiler, water proofer, bricklayer, glazier, or plasterer.

But the new proposal would see tradies go through a comprehensive licensing process to work on sites in the ACT.

“We are not just talking about the quality or the trade qualifications of the workers, it is also about having the insurances [and] financial solvency to undertake the work that you are doing,” CFMEU ACT branch secretary Zach Smith said.

The coalition — comprised of the union and the companies — has now written to the ACT government calling for reform, saying the reputation of the industry is at stake.

“Over the past decade, the ACT has experienced a construction boom,” the letter to the government said.

“The ACT has also experienced a boom in the number of complaints about serious project failures.”

Mr Smith said the industry had been calling for reform for years and it was urgently needed.

“When things go wrong it can go catastrophically wrong,” he said.

“It seems every fortnight if not every week there is another issue of building quality or building failure in the ACT.”

Six men stand in a row in front of signs that say CFMEU.
Some of Canberra’s largest construction companies have joined forces with the CFMEU to call for formal accreditation for at least eight trades.(ABC News: Ian Cutmore)

Giving the customer certainty

Jesse Ahern is the director of one of Canberra’s largest bricklaying companies and said low-skilled workers with no qualifications were undercutting reputable businesses.

“People will go for the cheapest price and often it is people who do not have skills who will be able to it,” Mr Ahern said.

“It is something to stop the cowboys from just being able to pop up overnight and take on major projects without any sort of independent third-party check.”

A man uses a drill to fix a roof.
Currently, workers do not need formal accreditation to call themselves a joiner, carpenter, painter, tiler, water proofer, bricklayer, glazier, or plasterer in the ACT.(Unsplash: Chandler Cruttenden)

Mr Ahern thinks ensuring that all workers are skilled will reduce the number of complaints.

“There are plenty of stories out there about poor building quality and I feel some sort of trade licensing will help ameliorate that,” he said.

Marika Alessandri runs a painting business in Canberra and also agrees with reform.

She said under the current rules, if there was an issue with work completed, the tradesperson could just “run away.”

“It will give the customer certainty that our work is performed to a certain level,” Ms Alessandri said.

Other reforms take priority: ACT government

Rebecca Vassarotti speaks in an interview.
Sustainable Building and Construction Minister Rebecca Vassarotti says engineer registration and tightening developer licensing are higher priorities than the proposed reforms. (ABC News)

Sustainable Building and Construction Minister Rebecca Vassarotti said trade licence reform was on the government’s agenda, but was not the priority.

“Engineer registration and proper developer licensing [are] the two priority projects that we have heard very clearly from stakeholders, including the union, that they are priority areas to work on,” Ms Vassarotti said.

“There are opportunities to strengthen the system, so we will absolutely work with stakeholders including the union in terms of identifying particular trades if there is a need to strengthen the process.”

Several jurisdictions including New South Wales already have similar laws in place.

Ms Vassarotti said some work in this space was already underway.

“We have been working with other jurisdictions, particularly around the development of a framework around registration,” she said.

“In the ACT, while some trades are not licensed all of that work is required to be supervised by a licensed builder as well as a clear certification process.”

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