OVER 3000 Brisbane construction workers walked off the job for a mass stopwork meeting in central Brisbane on September 12.
The action was in solidarity with Noel Washington, a Victorian construction union official facing jail over his refusal to divulge details of a union meeting to the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). Around 500 building workers rallied outside Washington’s appearance at the Geelong court.
Contingents from non-construction unions, including the National Tertiary Eeducation Union, the Rail Tram and Bus Union and the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellanous Union, joined the action in Brisbane. The rallying cry was for “Rights on Sites” for construction industry workers and the immediate disbanding of the anti-union ABCC.
Speakers including Michael Ravbar from the construction union and Queensland Council of Unions general secretary Ron Monaghan, expressed outrage that anti-union laws introduced by the Howard government have left construction workers with fewer rights than other workers.
Whilst speakers blamed the previous Liberal government for introducing the anti-union laws, Ron Monaghan explained that Kevin Rudd’s Labor government had done little to improve the lot of working people. The most rousing cheer of the rally came when Monaghan demanded that Rudd tear up John Howard’s hated WorkChoices legislation.
The Builders Labourers Federation assistant secretary David Hanna moved a resolution demanding the immediate repeal of the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act (2005) and the disbanding of the ABCC. It also called for a “national response” if “any worker or union official is jailed under these laws”.
Although there was no mention of exactly what form such a “response” would take, the resolution passed unanimously. Some officials have avoided directing calling for industrial action for fear that legal action could be taken against them under the same laws being used against Noel Washington.
But construction workers have already taken illegal action and are ready to do so again.
Noel Washington faces trial on December 2 after pleading not guilty at his September hearing. Mass stopwork rallies are planned across the country on the day.
By Carl Taylor