The battle for union rights under the Rudd Labor government is set to hot up in August, when building workers around the country go on strike in support of Ark Tribe, a South Australian union member, who faces court on August 11.
Ark, a rank and file member of the CFMEU, refused to attend an Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) interrogation over industrial action taken to demand health and safety measures at his work site at Flinders Uni.
The issues raised included plant operated by unlicensed workers, scaffold with improper access, unusable amenities, lack of overhead protection, no change rooms, no clean drinking water and no evacuation plan.
For his “crime” of non-attendance, Ark faces a possible six months in jail. This is similar to what Victorian CFMEU vice president, Noel Washington, defied in 2008. The charges against Noel were dropped by the Federal DPP in December 2008, after industrial action by CFMEU members nationwide.
Julia Gillard, as Industrial Relations Minister, has incurred the anger of building unions because of her continual bleating about the need for a “tough cop on the beat” in the building industry.
Gillard takes on unions
The union movement has a job on its hands to force Gillard and Rudd to scrap the ABCC. In June at the ACTU congress Gillard made her intent clear, facing down over 500 delegates and provocatively parroting employer misinformation about disputes in the construction industry to justify keeping the ABCC’s powers.
Union demands for the scrapping of the ABCC were a key feature of the congress, with hundreds of delegates wearing yellow t-shirts demanding “One law for all—Abolish the ABCC—Free Ark Tribe”.
A Mines and Metal Association document lobbying Gillard to retain the ABCC’s powers in Labor’s new industrial relations system from 2010, talks of the CFMEU’s “unlawful actions” and “lawlessness” but all of them are linked to strike action, not one criminal action.
The ABCC’s job has been to criminalise unions going about their business of representing their members. Ark’s case is a dramatic illustration of that. The ABCC does not investigate why over 24 construction workers have been killed on the job in the year to July or why building workers are constantly fighting to be paid their full pay and entitlements.
Gillard has delivered little for unions, despite the enormous help Labor received from unions in its election campaign. The government also dismissed calls from ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence for further changes to its new Fair Work Act to get rid of the WorkChoices measures that remain intact.
And while the government described as “disappointing” the recent Fair Pay Commission decision to freeze the pay of low paid workers, the government helped pave the way for it through its continual calls on workers to accept “wage restraint”.
Victorian building workers are set to strike on the day Ark goes to court. Ark refused to say anything to the ABCC and he wanted the choice of his own lawyer at the interrogation, both of which are illegal under Howard’s laws which set up the ABCC.
Months after the state’s Building Industry Disputes Committee ruled in favour of the workers’ right to take industrial action over safety concerns at his workplace, the ABCC started chasing Ark and his fellow union members for the action they took.
The ABCC acts like an attack dog of the MBA in its drive for more “production”. For building workers it is about the constant battle for our rights. We are absolutely right to strike for those rights and to tell Rudd and Gillard that Howard’s ABCC is a dead dog.
By a CFMEU member