CFMEU strikes for safety and conditions on Brisbane’s Cross River Rail

Construction workers on Brisbane’s $7 billion Cross River Rail project staged a one-week strike last month as part of a major dispute over substandard conditions.

On 1 May CFMEU members picketing the site were assaulted as non-union members tried to break the strike and gain access. The union said “hired muscle” from a labour hire firm had been brought in to break the picketline.

The CFMEU is seeking its first enterprise agreement on the project, with workers there covered by an AWU greenfields agreement for the past four years that was negotiated before workers had set foot on the site.

Many civil construction projects in the state operate on far worse wages and conditions compared to CFMEU sites, thanks to the influence of the AWU. The company is playing hardball in the hope of maintaining this.

The bulk of the 200 workers employed by the main contractor, CPB, have joined the CFMEU. But the company also subcontracts to a range of non-union companies to perform work on the project, with up to 2000 workers on site.

Safety concerns there have been a major issue. In July last year one worker, Nation “Nash” Kouka, was left fighting for his life after falling from ten metre high scaffolding. There have been numerous other near misses.

The company is also refusing to agree to a proposed heat policy allowing work to stop in extreme conditions. On the project “more than 30 workers have been hospitalised and one labour-hire worker has died of heat stress, yet CPB refuses to agree to workers’ requests for an effective heat policy,” CFMEU Assistant State Secretary Jade Ingham said.

“Workers are fed up with CPB’s grubby divide-and-rule tactics, and they have had enough of seeing fellow workers maimed and killed on the job.”

The company also wants to keep cleaners and traffic controllers out of the agreement so they can be paid less. One subcontractor was even caught paying traffic controllers less than legal Award minimum wages.

Workers also want designated rostered days off on the project, rather than having to take them when it suits the employer, and an increase from the current six closer to the 26 RDOs on other sites.

But there has been no further strike action since the first week of May, and the CFMEU has so far relied only on organisers and members on site to run picketlines.

The company gained an injunction against any hard pickets denying access to the site following the attack on the picket on 1 May.

But mass picketing involving workers from across the industry could shut down the project completely and force CPB to give in. Stepping up the fight is the way to win.

By James Supple

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