The Guardian 11 May, 2005

Retrospective laws aimed at workers

Building workers risked being personally sued for learning about federal workplace laws this week, while Workplace Relations Minister, Kevin Andrews, serenaded bosses at a business breakfast. Andrews has said new industrial laws he is drafting, which include substantial fines for rank and file workers, will be applied retrospectively but he won't be directing them at the Adelaide employers who took time off work to listen to him last Wednesday.

CFMEU National Secretary, John Sutton, said the meetings highlighted Howard government double standards. He said laws being drafted for the construction industry would deny workers freedom of speech and other basic civil rights.

They will be barred from holding union or political meetings during working hours, and must subject themselves to interviews by members of the Building Industry Taskforce without normal legal protections.

In a special Saturday sitting of Parliament, last year, the Howard government beefed-up the coercive powers available to its building industry Taskforce.

Building workers must hand over required documents, answer questions and give evidence, under oath.

They can be handed a notice requiring them to appear before a private Taskforce interrogation. Workers in that situation have neither the right to remain silent, nor any protection against self- incrimination.

The Taskforce can direct them not to tell anyone, except their lawyer, what was discussed during the interrogation.

Howard's terror and ASIO laws also contain similar provisions, applicable to anyone suspected of being a terrorist, associating with terrorists or who might have any information which might be of use to authorities regarding terrorism.

"Workers in the building industry are being stripped of basic rights that even career criminals enjoy", John Sutton noted. "If this sort of legislation was being proposed by a dictatorship we would be writing protest letters to Amnesty International.

"This is an attack not just on building workers but the rights of every Australian citizen."

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