More attacks on construction unions

Construction unions are facing renewed attack, with Ted Baillieu’s Victorian Liberal government announcing a new squad of investigators to spy on building sites.

The new investigators will work on state government projects, to enforce a new “code of practice” for the building industry.

This mirrors the code imposed by John Howard in an effort to undermine union strength in the industry. It would deny government contracts to companies that allow the union to maintain 100 per cent membership on building sites.

The state government is doing the bidding of the construction company bosses, who called for a code of conduct back in June.

The government has pointed to strike action on the huge desalination plant site as justification. But the building company that runs the site has been provoking strike action, in order to escape fines for missing its completion deadline. Strike action allows it to escape fines under its contract. One thousand CFMEU members walked out after it moved to sack their union reps in June.

ABCC on the attack

Despite agreeing to a new pay deal in July, without the union taking any strike action, construction bosses in Victoria have also renewed their demands for the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) to crack down on the unions.

The bosses’ Master Builders Association claims the ABCC is, “The construction industry’s only foil against rampant building unions.”

Last year unions won a victory when Ark Tribe escaped jail after refusing to attend an ABCC interrogation. But instead of pressing home their advantage, the construction union has continued to allow the ABCC to impose huge fines on it for basic union activities.

The union has been fined over and over again by the Federal Court in cases started by the ABCC. In June the union was fined almost $1 million in Victoria over disputes at Melbourne’s new Children’s Hospital and the new Epping Market.

Then in August, the WA branch of the CFMEU was fined a whopping $2.1 million by the Federal Court over the two-day strike at Woodside Pluto LNG project by 1300 workers in December 2009, over changes to living arrangements in the remote WA site. The fine is payable to Woodside.

Yet the union goes on paying the fines. One result is that the Victorian branch has announced that union dues will go up by $100. The reason, according to Oliver, is that ABCC prosecutions have cost the Victorian branch “around $5 million in fines and legal fees”.

The way to stop the ABCC draining the union’s funds, a death by 1000 cuts, is to stop paying the fines and back this up with strike action if the ABCC or the courts respond. Then we could finally finish off the ABCC, after nearly four years of no action from Labor.


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