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1. Introduction
In the first part of this report, the background of the Australian Construction
industry is discussed. In the second part of this report the industrial pressures in
the Australian construction industry are critically analysed and solutions to
overcome those pressures are outlined.

2. Background of the Australian Construction Industry
The Australian Construction industry plays a significant role in the Australian
economy. In 2011, construction industry accounted for $102 billion and
constituted nearly 7% of total GDP (ABS, 2012).

It is a high risk industry, which struggles to provide a safe and healthy
environment for the workers (Loosemore and Andonakis, 2007). It is also a
highly complex, dynamic and contentious industry. Incidents of industrial
disputes such as grieviences, strikes, pickets and lockouts are not uncommon.
This is due to the fact that the construction industry continues to face enormous
industrial pressures such as structural changes, effects of sub contracting, safety
and health issues, competition pressures, cost constraints, high work load, long
work hours, shift and night work, skills shortages, a diverse workforce and so on.

These industrial pressures have to be addressed keeping in mind all
stakeholders such as the Federal and the State government, management,
unions, employees and community. This is because if not addressed these
pressures can result in either industrial disputes such as strikes, lockouts and
other overt mechanisms or covert ways such as absenteeism, high turnover, lack
of employee engagement or motivation. These issues are imperative for
Industrial relations and if not addressed would affect productivity as well as well
being of the construction workforce.

Therefore, an effective approach to addressing industrial pressures keeping in
mind the benefits and concerns of all stakeholders is critical. Effective
management strategies, human resources processes such as better
communication, employee engagement, training and development, performance
and rewards systems, government regulations and policies which recognise and
address a host of industrial pressures and the effects on all stakeholders are
some of the solutions to overcome the industrial pressures in the Australian
construction industry.

3. Industrial Pressures and solutions to overcome them

3.1 Structural changes in the Australian construction industry and
safety pressures
One of the most significant pressures on the Australian construction is the issue
of safety. Unsafe behaviour has been cited as one of the primary cause for high
accident rates on sites. In the Australian construction industry, the average
national incidence rate is twice that of other industry average figures
(Loosemore and Andonakis, 2007).

According to Lingard, Cooke and Blismas (2010), subcontracting is a key feature
of the Australian Construction industry. The workers in the sub- contracted
companies are often loosely connected to the principal contractor and are
isolated from their own company. There is often a culture of reliance of sub-
contractors on the principal construction companies in various facets of
management namely access, security, payment and welfare. These smaller firms
often lack in resources, culture and skills in understanding the importance of
safety policies. A number of small sub-contracting firms work on low margins
and hence cost pressures are a significant barrier in the implementation of safety
policies and procedures (Loosemore and Andonakis, 2007).

Similarly, there is a culture of risk transfer from the big or the principal
construction companies to the smaller sub-contracting firms, which often lack
the expertise, education as well as legal resources to implement them.

Supervisors therefore play an important link between principal contractors and
sub-contractors and hence there is an imperative need to develop their skills and
capabilities through training in safety risk management and practices.

Government policies such as the Occupational Health and Safety Act which was
introduced in 2001, updated in 2004, mandatory White card safety training,
NSW Work Cover subby were initiatives undertake to improve the poor health
and safety performance in construction industry.

However, although the adaptation and implementation of these initiatives were
not an issue with the large construction companies, it is evident that there were
significant barriers to their adoption by the small sized sub-contracting firms.
According to Loosemore and Andonakis, 2007 this was because of high
implementation costs, training costs and hence negative pressures on
productivity due to OH&S compliance.

3.1.1 Solution to overcome safety and health pressures
Loosemore and Ankonakis (2007) have suggested a reduction in the pyramid
contracting structure in favour of a parallel contracting structure to improve the
effectiveness of OH&S regulations being adopted and implemented. They also
recommend better communication between regulatory bodies such as Work
Cover and the sub-contracting fraternity. Another shorter-term solution that
has been suggested by them is to reduce training costs or passing on OH&S costs
to clients of sub-contracting companies.

A number of large companies are setting best practices and are leading the way
in safety practices and training. The Incident and Injury free program established
by Bovis Lend Lease as well as John Hollands Zero Harm program is another
industry initiative to be a leader in health, safety management (Zou, 2011). The
Construction Induction Training program in 2007 by Western Australian
government to complete mandatory training had positive results and saw a shift
in attitude and culture towards better safety practices (Bahn and Barratt-Pugh,
2012). There were also evidence of reduction in lost days due to injury and
hence improvements in the productivity.

An increase in such safety training initiates would be of immense significance in
improving the safety pressures and would have a positive impact through
reduced work related injuries, fatalities, change in attitude and behaviour
regarding safety amongst the construction workforce, which in turn would result
in improved productivity, high morale, employee and organisational growth.

3.2 Pressures due to language Diversity in the Australian construction
Language diversity is another characteristic of the Australian construction
industry (Trajkovski and Loosemore, 2006). Approximately 25% of the current
population is born overseas. Non-English speaking background workers
represent a significantly large proportion of Australian construction workers.
This has significant implications for the construction industry.

Programs such as the compulsory White Card training are conducted in English
only and hence this has resulted in difficulty for non-English speaking
background (NESB) workers in understanding and interpreting work health and
safety policies and regulations. Also, lack of clear understanding of safety
instructions has contributed to a very high rate of accidents incidents amongst
the NESB workers. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), foreign
workers (Trajkovski and Loosemore, 2006) experienced 29% of injuries and
incidents in the workplace.

3.2.1 Solutions to overcome pressures of language diversity
These challenges due to language and cognitive barriers have to be addressed in
order to bring about significant improvements and efficiency in the Australian
construction industry. Trajkovski and Loosemore (2006) have suggested a range
of solutions. According to them use of innovative ways to overcome barriers of
language like multi-language training manuals is a necessity in order to
accommodate NESB workers and improve their awareness and understanding of
safety training and OH&S regulations.

Language should be more technically based and more sensitive to meet the
cognitive needs and requirements of the construction workers. Using signage
based on images, greater participation is mangers and supervisors in explaining
safety requirements are other innovative methods to improve the effectiveness
of safety communication. This in turn would lead to better assimilation and
contribute to the reduction of accident and injuries incidents, amongst this very
significant and vital segment of the construction industry.

3.3 Pressures of Cultural Diversity
Cultural diversity is another significant characteristic of the Australian
Construction industry. Loosemore et al (2010), posit that the construction sites
are one of the most diverse workplaces in Australia. There is a clear evidence of
growth of distinct occupational territories in the Australian construction
industry. The Italian Australian dominate the concrete trade, the Croatian-
Australian dominate the carpentry trade, Anglo-Australian dominant in the role
of supervisors and managers and so on (Loosemore et al, 2010). These
demarcations can have further implications on the well being of the construction

Cultural diversity is a major asset in the globalised and competitive workforce
and can have positive results on productivity, enhance problem solving,
creativity, and innovation and therefore improve the overall competitive
advantage. However, the absence of proper management of cultural diversity can
lead to conflicts, inefficiency, low morale, high turnover, low productivity, high
stress and hence can effect the organisational growth and productivity. These
unresolved issues could fester in the workplace and be the cause of Industrial
disputes and conflicts.

Poor assimilation and poor training of the diverse and minority groups, who are
such an essential part of the construction employment can have detrimental
effects on productivity and growth of the workforce as well as the organisation.
According to Loosemore et al (2010), effective programs and policies and
management strategies to manage and address the issues of cultural diversity
are imperative.

3.3.1 Solutions to overcome cultural diversity pressures
According to De Cieri and Kramar (2003), issues of diversity are still not a high
priority in Australia and only narrowly understood in the concepts of Equal
Employment Opportunity. Some of the solutions to overcome the
marginalisation of culturally diverse groups is by implementing education
programs which highlight the positives of heterogeneity in the workforce,
creating situations for more frequent interactions between the diverse groups
through cross- cultural interactions and initiating mentoring programs between
non English speaking workers and English speakers and so on. These solutions
would result in greater assimilation of the culturally diverse workforce, lead to
higher employee morale and engagement and hence achieve increased
productivity and growth in the construction industry.

3.4 Demographic and nature of work pressures in the Australian
construction Industry
In the last three decades, labour force participation of young workers, casual and
contingent workers and migrant workers has increased many folds (Loudoun,
2010). Migrant workers have increased significantly due to domestic labour
shortages as well as government migration policies (McGrath-Champ,
Rosewarne and Rittau, 2011).Nature of work namely night work, long work
hours and shift work are inherent characteristics of the Australian construction
industry (Loudoun, 2010).

According to Peetz et al (2003), young workers have limited control and say over
the conditions of their work hours and shift. Due to the nature of long work
hours and night shifts, it has been seen that the young workers are particularly
vulnerable and more susceptible to injuries and accidents at the workplace
(Loudoun, 2010). Lack of proper training, education, awareness and cognitive
limitations in understanding the importance of safety are other reasons
suggested for the young workers being more prone to injuries and accidents.

Migrant and casual workers also experience similar disadvantages as
experienced by the young construction workers (Loosemore and Ankonakis,

3.4.1 Solutions to overcome demographic pressures
An avoidance to assimilate this important segment of the workforce can result in
the negative impact on the growth and productivity in the construction industry
and can fester industrial disputes.

Therefore, there is a need to overcome the barriers that put pressures on young
workers, casual and migrant workers that marginalise them and expose them to
unnecessary harm. This can be done by providing effective safety training,
education and awareness, developing and implementing effective policies which
take into consideration the issues and concerns being faced amongst this

3.5 Pressures of high psychological stress amongst construction
High psychological stress amongst Australian construction workers and project
managers is another significant pressure in the industry. According to Haynes
and Love (2004), there is high stress amongst project managers in the
construction industry. Noblet et al (2001) posit similar views of stress reaching
endemic proportions in the Australian construction industry. This needs to be
addressed as managers perform an important function in the workforce and can
effect negatively on the productivity and growth of the company.

Highly competitive nature of the construction industry, conflict prone due to on
site problems, budgetary constraints, high workload, long working hours and
project deadlines are some of the reasons for the high levels of stress amongst
project managers in the construction industry (Haynes and Love, 2004).

3.5.1 Solution to overcome stress pressures
Therefore if the Australian construction industry has to ameliorate their
performance in the construction industry and avoid industrial disputes,
providing site project managers with problem solving coping strategies, effective
training and skills development can help significantly. Developing policies and
regulations keeping in mind the pressures of high work load, deadlines and cost
constraints experienced by project managers, would be instrumental in reducing
the stress experienced by them.

3.6 Work life balance pressures in the construction industry
Another significant pressure in the Australian construction industry is work life
balance issue facing the construction industry. According to Lingard, Francis and
Turner (2012), work life balance is a key issue facing construction organisations.
Similarly, Ng et al (2005), have stressed that lack of work life balance is a major
reason for stress amongst the construction workers. Haynes and Love (2004)
also feel that insufficient time with family and a culture of long work hours is
causing immense stress amongst construction workers. Therefore these barriers
of long work hours, insufficient family time and high stress have to be addressed.

According to Campbell (2002) there are two cohorts of employees within the
construction industry who are clearly rewarded under different pay systems.
Whilst the blue-collar workers are entitled to penalty rates and are paid for
overtime hours they work, in contrast the engineers, supervisors and managers
are only entitled to their salary package and not paid for additional hours.
Therefore these differences in pay and rewards are crucial in understanding
while re thinking reforms and policies for work-life balance issues in the
construction industry workforce.

3.6.1 Solutions to overcome pressures of work life balance
According to Lingard et al (2010), there is a need for planning to improve
workflows and smooth out pressure points for workers in projects. Halpern
(2005) has suggested that the greater the work life balance an organisation
delivers, the more loyal and committed are the employees. He also suggests that
better work life balance can lead to less stress, lower levels of absenteeism and
in turn more productivity at work. Scholars like Lingard, Frances and Turner
(2011), have suggested the need to further investigate cultural factors context in
which work life strategies are implemented in order to come with solutions for
addressing these significant issues.

3.7 Skills Shortages in the construction industry
McGrath-Champ, Rosewarne, and Rittau (2011) have suggested that a significant
shortage of skilled workers exists in the Australian construction industry.
Historically, construction companies have operated in limited geographical
locations, however recently due to globalisation, cyclical nature of the business,
heightened resources boom and the governments stimulus packages have,
propelled the construction companies towards expansion in new regions
including international presence. This has created significant labour shortages in
Australia. For example a number of big construction companies in Australia
namely Grocon in Melbourne and Bovis Lend Lease now have international

Another factor responsible for the skilled shortages in the Australian
construction industry has been a diminished public expenditure on the
apprenticeship and training programs. This has resulted in deepening the
problem of skilled labour shortages. In response, these skills shortages in the
construction industry have been addressed by recruiting migrant labour and
introducing an expansion in the migration policies such as the Business and
Professional Migration scheme, the temporary labour migration schemes like the
457 Visa, and the working holidaymaker scheme.

Unfortunately, the 457 Visa scheme has been immensely controversial and has
come under scrutiny for being abused by construction companies and employers
in the way of employing cheaper overseas labour. This has resulted in a number
of industrial disputes between unions and management. Unless these issues are
resolved there is an inevitable problem of industrial conflict in the industry.

3.7.1 Solutions to overcome skills shortages
According to McGrath-Champ, Rosewarne and Rittau (2011), a number of
Federal and State government initiatives are required to address the skills
shortages in the construction industry. There has to be greater investment in
training programs and apprenticeship programs to combat the skills shortage in
Australia. Government policies regarding migration workers and visa schemes
have to be examined carefully developed and implemented, to avoid any
exploitation and abuse by companies in denying the migrants equal wages and
other benefits.

These are highly contentious issues and if not addressed effectively, will result in
industrial grievances and disputes.

4. Conclusion
In conclusion, the Australian construction industry is a dynamic, continuously
changing, contentious and complex industry. It is plagued with a multitude of
industrial pressures such as structural changes, competition pressures, safety
and health pressures, language and cultural diversity issues, high work load,
stress, time deadlines pressures, work life balance pressures and skills
shortages. These are extremely significant and relevant pressures that need to be
addressed holistically keeping in mind the concerns and needs of all the
stakeholders in the Australian construction industry. In the absence of doing so,
there is an inevitable risk of industrial disputes, high rates of injuries and
fatalities, low morale, absenteeism and in turn low productivity. Therefore,
effective management strategies, human resource processes such as employee
engagement, effective communication, training and development, government
regulations and policies which recognise and address a host of industrial
pressures and effects on all stakeholders are the solutions to overcome the
industrial pressures in the Australian construction industry. These solutions will
help ameliorate productivity and organisational growth in the construction
industry as well as improve satisfaction, engagement, motivation and well being
of the Australian construction workforce.

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