Unified push for change in 2019

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On behalf of the Master Plumbers & Gasiftters Association of WA, I’m pleased to welcome all members and partners for another year.

I hope you and your families had an enjoyable festive season and are refreshed and ready for bigger and better things over the coming 12 months.

With a federal election in May, our primary objective this year is to advocate for positive change for the plumbing and gasfitting industry. 

It has always been a key objective, but with associations around the country all pushing for the same thing, we have a significant opportunity to present a strong and unified voice.

We are seeking to improve safety standards for members of the public, to ensure better quality products are used in construction, and for a stronger, fairer building industry offering a better deal for our members.

It is a charge that is being led by our national body, Master Plumbers Australia, made up of state-based associations around the country. 

The aim is not to take political sides but to give all parties the opportunity to respond to five major issues which have been jointly identified as matters of national concern.

We will then report on those responses prior to the election to help members make informed decisions about where each major party stands on plumbing reforms.  

Five key issues have been identified and MPA, together with its state-based member associations, is seeking nationally consistent outcomes to each. 


1.    All plumbing products sold, imported into and used in Australia must carry WaterMark certification

WaterMark certification is the industry standard for plumbing products in Australia and above all else, is designed to protect consumers. It guarantees products are designed, manufactured and tested to meet defined quality, safety and performance standards. 

While legislation prohibits licensed plumbers from installing products that are not WaterMark-certified, non-conforming products are available for sale in retail and trade stores across Australia, are imported into Australia and are used in homes and other buildings. 

Queensland has implemented state legislation to prohibit the sale of non-compliant plumbing products in retail and trade stores – making it the only state or territory where this is the case.  

Call to action
•    Apply the Queensland retail model at a national level
•    Extend this model to make it illegal to import non-certified products and to use them in any type of building


2.    Stronger national legislation and defined processes to guarantee security of payment for construction industry contractors and sub-contractors  

Plumbers, gasfitters and other trades who work as contractors/sub-contractors for larger companies are down the chain when it comes to getting paid for their work and materials.
 
In fact, non-payment is one of the reasons that almost 1,700 construction firms around the country went out of business last financial year. 

Existing state legislation and processes relating to security of payments vary but all still leave contractors and sub-contractors vulnerable as they focus on protecting prompt payment and fair payment but offer no protection if a prime contractor or client company goes out of business.  

In WA, security of payment measures provide some protection for large government construction projects, however issues remain with other projects. 

Even under current state-based legislation, there are still too many occasions where buildings are constructed, on time and on budget, yet many years later, some contractors and sub-contractors are still chasing payment.

We need national legislation that ensures security of payment for contractors and sub-contractors. It must ensure that any company collecting money on behalf of a contractor or sub-contractor must put that money aside. 

We also need a simple, quick, clearly defined process of recourse to enable contractors and sub-contractors to collect the money they are owed in a timely way.

Recent construction industry reviews have recommended the introduction of cascading statutory trust accounts to ensure payment to contractors and sub-contractors and this must be closely examined.
     
Call to action:
•    The federal government should identify the best model to ensure security of payment for construction industry contractors and sub-contractors
•    The federal government should implement legislation at a national level to ensure consistency

3.    The introduction of a Continuous Professional Development program and mandatory minimum four-year apprenticeships across the plumbing industry

Master Plumbers strongly advocates for the introduction of a national program of Continuous Professional Development (CPD) for plumbers and gasfitters, as exists in many other professions. 

Accreditation and lifelong learning ensures the future standards of our profession and with it the health and safety of the community we serve. The program should be tied to the renewal of a plumber’s licence to provide confidence in their ongoing capability.

Plumbing is regulated on a state/territory basis and the scope of plumbing work varies across jurisdictions, so CPD needs flexibility to cater for differences.

Master Plumbers Tasmania partnered with the Tasmanian State Government to deliver a state CPD program for plumbers. The MPGA in WA and our equivalent in Victoria are currently working together to develop programs based on Tasmania’s.  The federal government can support and encourage this national cooperative approach through advocacy to all jurisdictions.

Given the bulk of plumbing skills are learnt on the job, we also recommend the introduction of a mandatory minimum four-year apprenticeship for all plumbers under the supervision of a qualified plumber.    
     
Call to action:
•    Federal government support and encouragement of a national CPD program linked to the renewal of plumbing licences
•    Mandatory minimum four-year supervised apprenticeships for all plumbers before being eligible to apply for a contractor’s licence

4.    Bring plumbing industry employment legislation into line with standard business practices

There are shortfalls in current employment legislation relating to redundancy in the plumbing industry which are unfair to those running plumbing and gasfitting businesses. They fall short of standard business practice and are uncompetitive for our profession.

Under current minimum entitlements, a plumbing business is liable to pay redundancies under a very wide range of circumstances.  Employers already do and should remain liable for paying for genuine redundancies, but the scope of this must be brought in line with contemporary expectations.

Call to action:
•    The federal government should bring the whole of section 18 of the Award into line with the National Employment Scheme (NES)

5.    Offsite constructed modules in the construction industry, commonly called pods, must have a certificate of compliance issued by a licenced plumber if there are any plumbing works in their manufacture or installation

The construction industry is evolving and one trend we have seen in recent years is the increasing use of pre-constructed modules (pods) on major building construction projects.

These pods are pre-constructed and self-contained, such as fully fitted bathroom or kitchen units, that are delivered and fitted as a single, complete module.  

There are two problems here from a safety perspective:
-    While the pod may include WaterMark-certified plumbing products, if they are not assembled by a licenced plumber there is no guarantee they have been correctly and safely constructed. Essentially, the complete kitchen or bathroom pod is treated as a single plumbing product and bypasses critical compliance testing processes which are required for in-situ construction to ensure they are safe for use.
-    As the pods are usually self-contained units and plumbing fittings may be enclosed within plastic moulded finishes or similar, licenced plumbers connecting them into the end building have no ability or line of sight to assess whether the pods contain the required WaterMark-certified plumbing products or if these products have been assembled correctly within the unit.

Call to action:
•    It must be a legislated national requirement that all pods involving plumbing works used on any building construction in Australia must have a certificate of compliance issued by a licenced plumber at the point of the pod’s construction
•    The current ability to provide a single WaterMark certification for completed pods must be removed
 

If you have any input or feedback on these or other items, please CONTACT the Master Plumbers and Gasfitters Association of WA.

Thank you for your continued support. We look forward to working with you and for you in 2019. 

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