The Guardian April 19, 2000


Background to union victory

In a sense it was the derisive headline in The Australian Financial 
Review which confirmed it once and for all: "Vic builders hoist white 
flag". Following a campaign that began in October last year Victorian 
building workers have won their wage increase and 36-hour week.

The dispute heated up in February when union talks with the Bracks 
Government were called off after employers locked out workers from building 
sites. Electricians and plumbers immediately announced an indefinite stop-
work.

The week before, shop steward Colin Reddy was bashed by thugs wearing 
balaclavas and armed with baseball bats when he was entering the LU Simon 
site in Melbourne's central business district. The company then locked the 
workers out.

Building workers, members of the Construction Division of the CFMEU, then 
began a vigil outside the headquarters of the Master Builders' Association 
(MBA), the employer body which had refused to enter meaningful discussions 
throughout the dispute.

Then last month cracks appeared in the ranks of a group of construction 
companies which had threatened to close down 1,000 sites for three months, 
a plan hatched by the MBA who, in cahoots with the Victorian Employers' 
Chamber of Commerce, had put together a $1 million fighting fund.

But 11 major employers, including Grollo and Multiplex, broke ranks and 
began negotiations with the union. At the time around 400 small building 
companies had signed agreements for a 36-hour week and an interim six 
percent pay increase.

A week later Grollo Constructions signed on the dotted line, delivering a 
staggering blow to the MBA. The CFMEU Construction Division national body 
stated that if the union won in Victoria a campaign for these same demands 
would be carried out at a national level.

The MBA, squirming under the pressure, went from threats to lies, at one 
stage claiming it had reached agreement with demolition workers for a deal 
which included a 38-hour week. An examination by the union revealed they 
had done no such thing.

Now even those employers who had stayed with the MBA, such as Hookers, 
Mirvac and Baulderstone Hornibrook, have signed up to the same deal as 
Grollo, Multiplex et al.

The Secretary of the union's Victorian Branch, Martin Kingham, declared 
that a total settlement around the State was now "a matter of paperwork, 
tidying up and getting on with life".

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