First charges as union Royal Commission does Abbott’s dirty work

Tony Abbott’s union Royal Commission has recommended charges against a series of union officials from the CFMEU, AWU and HSU.

The allegations against former AWU officials are nothing new, with recommendations against Julia Gillard’s one-time partner Bruce Wilson and accomplice Ralph Blewitt. A handful of former HSU officials are accused of falsely filling out workplace right of entry permit applications.

But the focus has been on the charges against construction union officials. Royal Commission Dyson Heydon has asked the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to launch legal action against the union for a “secondary boycott” of concrete company Boral.

Secondary boycotts are a standard form of industrial pressure made illegal under anti-union laws. The bosses hate them because they are an effective way to win union demands. Heydon even recommended blackmail charges against CFMEU Victorian State Secretary John Setka over the issue.

NSW CFMEU Secretary Brian Parker is also facing charges for giving false evidence to the Royal Commission over a leak of information from industry super fund CBUS.

The Royal Commission has been set up to do a job on the unions. As CFMEU National Construction Secretary Dave Noonan said, “Counsel Assisting has asked the Commission to reject just about every piece of evidence brought by the union, and accept almost every allegation against it no matter how two-bit, unsubstantiated, or outlandish it might be.”

The industrial action against Boral is designed to get major building company Grocon to agree to safety measures.

Rod Sims, ACCC chair and a former company director himself, is a loyal attack dog for the building bosses.

He told the Fairfax press that, “If this sort of behaviour…is unchecked, then the damage potential is just enormous…damage to the productivity of construction sites across Melbourne, damage to Boral and damage to Boral’s customers.”

But what about the damage to safety and workers’ lives if Grocon gets its way?

The Fairwork Building and Construction inspectorate (FWBCI), created by Labor, and now headed by Abbott appointee Nigel Hadgkiss, formerly of the anti-union ABCC, is also taking the CFMEU to court over the picket line at Grocon in August 2012.

The union has already been fined $1.25 million for contempt of court, but Hadgkiss wants more.

The FWBCI is seeking “compensation” for Grocon and sub-contractors who lost money during the 16-day shutdown.

Yet strike pay for union members forced to stop work by builders’ breaches of safety and conditions is deemed illegal.

In January, the FWBCI charged six ACT construction union officials, including Branch Secretary Dean Hall, with 32 breaches for entering construction sites without “entry permits”.

Entry permits are restrictive anti-union devices designed to make it harder for unions to deal with safety concerns in a timely manner. Fines against individual officials are $10,500 per breach and $51,00 per breach for the union.

The ACT has one of the worst serious injury rates on construction sites in Australia, with four workers killed in 2011 and 2012.

The building bosses hate the fact that union members have the power to extract improved wages and safety conditions through strike action.

As Joanna Mather wrote in the Financial Review, “One of the things construction industry employers would dearly like the Royal Commission to do is break the ‘business model’ of unions.” Or in other words, just break the unions full stop.

Given the forces arraigned against the union, the CFMEU officials should be calling mass meetings to counter the claims against it and plan industrial action to defend the union. But sadly no such steps are being taken.

Abbott and his building company mates don’t want a corruption-free union but a tame-cat union. Their real concern is to weaken union power in the construction industry.

We need to stand against this union busting agenda and defend the CFMEU against Abbott’s attack.

By Tom Orsag, CFMEU member


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