On Saturday morning June 21 two construction workers were killed when their swing stage scaffolding fell from the side of a Gold Coast high-rise building site. The next day building sites across Brisbane and South-east Queensland were shut down by a spontaneous walk off by workers sick of falling safety standards.
Most building sites around south-east Queensland heard about the accident within minutes. People were angry and wanted answers. Their concern was that this accident was a direct result of the construction commission and WorkChoices legislation which has restricted the union’s right of entry (and ability to organise) and made it easier for bosses to ignore safe work practices.
I work on a building site in Brisbane’s CBD. Monday morning after the accident many of us had decided we wouldn’t start work. Traditionally if there was a death in the industry we always went on strike. We stopped work not only to make a political point but also out of respect. Unfortunately over the last few years the union has been unwilling to initiate any industrial campaigns because of the commission and the threat of fines.
We rang the union and told them we wouldn’t work. We had a BLF organiser on our job before 6am. He did a safety audit of our job with the safety committee. Then we had a site meeting. At the meeting most of the talk was about the dropping safety standards in the industry and of the union’s inaction over the last few years. We also talked about the men’s families.
A motion to strike was passed unanimously. We also resolved to donate two days’ travel allowance ($55 each) to the families.
We were on our way home by 7am but many jobs were still working. So a few of us started ringing people on jobs all over Brisbane to tell them we were striking. Over the next hour or so cranes all over the city started to pull their hooks up. Some jobs stopped for safety audits, some stopped for meetings. By twelve o’clock 90 per cent of building sites in south-east Queensland were on strike.
The lesson is that there is still a bit of fight left in building workers even if the union won’t take a lead. The union now needs to take that fighting spirit and use it to take on Rudd and get rid of the construction commission and WorkChoices, and make our jobs safer.
By a Brisbane building worker