Nine weeks! Abigroup workers defy the courts and win

Construction workers at the Queensland Children’s Hospital (QCH), the largest building site in Brisbane, have had a significant victory after a nine week, 63 day strike, against construction firm Abigroup (a subsidiary of Lend Lease).

The victory is sweet not just because of the length of the strike (the longest strike in Brisbane for years) but because it has forced one of the most aggressively anti-union companies in the industry to sign an Enterprise Bargaining Agreement for the next 4 years. This is the first union agreement that Abigroup, also known as “Scabi-Abi”, has signed, previously only operating on non-union agreements.

Crucially the agreement will include a “subcontractors clause” ensuring the same rates of pay for all workers on the site. The win at Abigroup has wider ramifications in the industry. WATPAC and Leightons, are now approaching unions to negotiate an EBA, to avoid protracted strike action.

The strike began over the use of subcontractors on site. Workers walked off when a subcontractor went bankrupt and Abigroup refused to pay the workers the unpaid wages and super owed to them.
Both the company and Fairwork Australia tried to break the strike through the courts, but defiance backed with solidarity from other workers and community ensured this did not happen.

Union officials, union members and community organisers were subject to court injunctions, sometimes delivered to their houses. Abigroup thugs filmed and documented every minute of the community picket, much of which was used as evidence to injunct and ban individuals from the picket.

Despite this, electricians and plumbers refused to cross the picket line throughout the dispute. Financial support from workers, other unions, and the community crucially meant the strikers had enough money to eat and pay urgent bills throughout the strike.

A collection at a Qld UnCut rally, a community group opposing Campbell Newman’s cuts, raised $700 for the strikers. Construction workers from other sites would daily drop in with regular donations. Delegations of officials and workers from the MUA, TWU, AMIEU and QCU also visited the site, pledged support and donated money.

Interstate solidarity demonstrations at Baulderstone (Lend Leases other construction company) sites and offices, on 25 and 26 September, while late in coming, signalled wider support for the QCH workers and kept the pressure on Abigroup.

The construction bosses have suffered a major defeat. But the Newman government, not content with sacking public servants and slashing services has announced a plan to implement a new construction “code of conduct” similar to that introduced by the Victorian Liberal government. The new code will, among other things, force companies tendering for government construction jobs to sue unions over illegal strikes.

But the fantastic success of the strike provides a great example of how to fight against Newman’s anti-union laws, and in the broader struggle against Newman’s cuts.

By Robert Nicholas


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