The Guardian 6 July, 2005

Government threatens
supporters of Hardie victims

The Howard government is threatening Melbourne workers who marched in support of asbestos victims with $6600 fines. Its Department of Employment and Workplace Relations has sent letters to the homes of around 100 people from Visy Cartons, Broadmeadows, warning each that they face "a maximum penalty of 60 penalty units ($6600)" for joining the campaign against James Hardie.

Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) state secretary, Dave Oliver, called the government’s position "disgraceful".

"The Howard government wants to prosecute workers who had the gumption to stand up for dying Australians by trying to make James Hardie meet its responsibilities", Mr Oliver said.

"I thought Australia was a democracy. This business of penalising people’s families because they had the courage to attend a political rally is disgraceful."

The Visy workers joined a massive trade union campaign that forced James Hardie to punt its chief executive, issue apologies, and strike a deal delivering asbestos-disease sufferers more than $1.5 billion.

The company had tried to dodge its obligations by undertaking a complex restructure and moving its head office to Holland, away from the reach of Australian law.

A Commission of Inquiry found James Hardie had misled the Supreme Court, the NSW government, asbestos disease sufferers, and the general public.

Visy, a private company run by billionaire Richard Pratt, won Section 127 Orders preventing its employees from joining the outcry against James Hardie’s behaviour, last September.

The orders were granted under Howard government laws that make political stoppages, or union even meetings during working hours, illegal.

Dave Oliver said members felt so strongly about James Hardie’s behaviour they attended the rally. The AMWU supported them and, after negotiations, Visy agreed to shelve legal action.

However, Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews’ department had intervened and taken over the prosecutions. Apparently Visy asked the department to drop the actions but that it declined. Each worker has been accused of failing to "complete a full shift" on September 15, 2004.

James Hardie is a member of the Business Council of Australia, a key voice in the chorus promoting the Howard-Andrews anti-union drive.

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