Construction unions can’t just cop these unjust fines

Fines against the construction unions have continued to mount under the draconian special laws for the industry established to crack down on the unions. In cases through January, February and March the Federal Court and the ABCC have levied fines for a number of cases of industrial action over the last two years.
Yet while the unions have campaigned to get the ABCC scrapped, they have made no attempt to defy the efforts to impose these massive fines, simply agreeing to pay them.
The fines are designed to cripple the unions in a “death by 1000 cuts”, something the Howard government wanted all along for the building unions—and it is happening under a Labor government.
In February, the Federal Magistrates Court fined the CFMEU construction division and two officials a total of $41,000 over so-called “unlawful industrial action” on the site of the new Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, over a crane manning dispute. Federal Magistrate John O’Sullivan accepted the penalties agreed by the CFMEU and the ABCC.
The Federal Court also fined the CFMEU, CEPU and five officials a total of $110,000 over so-called “unlawful industrial activity” on Bovis Lend Lease (BLL) sites in Melbourne during a dispute in 2008, over the company’s introduction of a swipe-card ID system.
Unions, rightly, objected to BLL’s introduction of the swipe card system at the ANZ, Myer and Montage sites at Docklands and the new Royal Children’s Hospital. Workers say the system was designed to set up sophisticated surveillance of workers and help keep union representatives off site.
In another court case, the CFMEU and an organiser were ordered to pay a combined $20,000 penalty over their role in the very dispute that resulted in Ark Tribe facing charges for refusing to attend a compulsory interview with the ABCC. Tribe successfully had the charges dismissed last November.
The CFMEU and an organiser were charged by the ABCC for organising an unlawful strike at the Flinders University building site. The organiser and workers organised the strike for a day over continued safety concerns, which were later upheld.
In early March, the Federal Court fined the Victorian branch of the CFMEU Construction and nine of its officials a total of another $170,000 over “coercive behaviour and unlawful industrial action” on Victorian roads projects.
While in WA, the union and its state assistant secretary, Joe McDonald, have lost an appeal against an earlier penalties ruling. Action brought by the ABCC saw Joe McDonald fined $8000 last year and the union $40,000 over unlawful industrial action on the City Square project in July 2009.
The CFMEU was also fined under the provisions of the hated Workplace Relations Act and well as the ABCC’s legal provisions.
Meanwhile, a new International Labour Organisation (ILO) report has vindicated claims by the CFMEU—it “notes with concern” that enforcing legal provisions on the protection of workers constitute a very small percentage of the ABCC’s activities.
CFMEU national secretary, Dave Noonan, says the ABCC, “has still not chalked up a single prosecution against an employer for underpaying workers or ripping them off on conditions”.
The CFMEU has lobbied the Labor government to abolish the ABCC. Yet it argues that the union has to the pay fines handed out by the courts. The growing cost of the fines makes clear that the union must begin organising strike action to defend the union’s assets and not accept this “death by 1000 cuts”.

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