The Guardian 14 September, 2005

Construction workers vow to fight back

Last week, the Senate passed the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Bill, which seeks to drastically limit the ability of building workers to defend wages, conditions and entitlements. The Act makes just about every form of industrial action unlawful and broadens the meaning of industrial action to include anything that deviates from normal work patterns, potentially catching sickies and deliberate lateness.

Restrictions or delays over safety fears will be “unlawful” unless the threat is later judged to have been “imminent”.

Individual workers face fines of up to $22,000 and unions can be slugged $110,000 for each breach.

The legislation will be policed by a new Australian Building Industry Commission, likely to be headed up by anti-worker reactionaries Jonathan Hamberger and Nigel Hadgkiss.

Both men, in previous guises, have drawn severe judicial censure, for their actions against the CFMEU.

The Commission will have the power to force building workers to attend secret interrogation sessions where they can be compelled to answer questions and produce documents, and may be ordered not to reveal the details of interrogations to anyone but their lawyers.

Any breach of those provisions is punishable by prison.

CFMEU NSW Construction Division Secretary Andrew Ferguson says federal standover tactics will not intimidate the CFMEU.

The CFMEU in NSW has stared down the latest round of anti-building worker legislation to win more than $3 million for employees and small businesses stranded by a Marrickville developer. Financier Macquarie Bank coughed up the money after a two-week picket of an apartment development, following the collapse of builder, JLB.

Andrew Ferguson confirmed $3 million of the settlement would go to unpaid subcontractors, while another $150,000 had been earmarked for wages and entitlements owed to building workers, clerical workers and management staff.

“They all put their hands up and they were all owed money”, Mr Ferguson said.

“I’m not sure if the company went into administration or receivership. It doesn’t matter. The point is it didn’t pay.

“We will continue this type of action on behalf of workers and family businesses in spite of the threats of the federal government.”

The federal government has also announced its intention to introduce special legislation that will “ring fence” contractors from rights and responsibilities conferred by industrial law.

That is a concern to Ian Fullford of the Australian Trades Contractors Association who estimates between 40 and 50 of his members benefited from the Marrickville picket.

He described his organisation’s relationship with the CFMEU as “positive”.

“They were very reasonable”, he said. “They sat down with Macquarie Bank and ourselves and helped get a settlement.

“I could probably have got an agreement myself but whether I would have been able to get the money, at the end of the day, is another matter.

“To some extent, we have a common interest because, often, when their members don’t get paid [by us] it is because our members haven’t been paid [by the developers].”

The CFMEU has now targeted developers of JLB sites at Wollongong and Dee Why for similar attention.

It made a breakthrough at Dee Why last week when money men came across with $10,000 for a dudded building worker.

Similar actions drew the wrath of Terry Cole during his discredited Building Industry Royal Commission on which the government based a range of anti-worker measures.

Unions vow to continue IR campaign

Delegates and representatives of Victoria’s unions met on September 7 at Dallas Brooks Hall to map-out the continuing campaign against the federal government’s attack on workers’ rights.

Over 4000 union officials from all sectors of the Victorian workforce voted to continue the fight and to support and defend any unions or individual workers who are attacked under the proposed legislation. Union leaders called on their members to plan and prepare for a sustained and disciplined campaign to defend working people’s rights and living standards over a long period of time.

Two resolutions were passed at the meeting. The first expressed support for a national trade union and community campaign against the government’s proposed industrial relations and welfare changes with strong support for mass rallies and demonstrations to be held on the “National Community Day of Action” on 15 November.

The resolution also called for a strengthening of the growing trade union movement and community alliance, “with the aim of directly challenging the political, extremist onslaught of the Howard government”.

A second resolution passed condemned the government attacks on building unions, calling this “a bid to outlaw effective, democratic unionism in an effort to reduce all building workers’ wages and conditions and to further increase the profits of some of this country’s wealthiest companies.”

Particular concern was raised about provisions to enable the mandatory jailing of workers and unionists who refuse to answer questions from the building industry taskforce.

Melbourne rally

The Melbourne CBD was brought to a standstill by the June 30 rally organised by the Victorian Trades Hall Council as to 120,000 workers, union supporters and members of the community at large took to the streets to protest against Howard’s extreme Industrial Relations agenda.


(See next week’s Guardian for further details).

Everyone is encouraged to participate in all activities occurring in Melbourne, suburban and regional areas. Members of unions should contact their particular union for further information. And keep an eye on the VTHC website for further details as the date approaches.

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