Nation-wide strike action erupted on all 36 major Thiess construction sites in mid-November, over industrial spying by a union-busting company at Thiess’s desalination project in Wonthaggi, Victoria.
Over 1000 workers at the desal plant itself stayed off the job for five days, only returning to work after they had forced the sacking of the managers at the centre of the scandal.
Thiess managers employed Bruce Townsend, a Tasmanian professional strikebreaker dubbed “Australia’s number one scab” to spy on union members and their shop stewards at the desal plant.
Townsend has organised strike-breaking operations in some of Australia’s most notorious workplace disputes, including at Mudginberri, the Burnie Pulp Mill, O’Connor’s Meatworks and Joy Mining Machinery disputes.
He organised 200 scabs during the Maritime Union of Australia dispute in 1998 as part of Patrick’s conspiracy to break the union.
Documents shown to The Australian showed a similar plan was contemplated by management at Wonthaggi, where, “workers brought in by Mr Townsend would help to complete the desalination project in the event of the Electrical Trades Union and other unions withdrawing or slowing their labour”.
Townsend’s work at the site lasted from March and June this year, before Thiess managers decided not to go ahead with the strike-breaking plans.
Two Thiess managers at the desal plant, Greg Miller and Marcus Caroll, hired Townsend at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars. It appears that this was hidden from more senior Thiess managers.
The speedy action taken by Thiess to sack the managers involved and to promise an investigation, involving lawyers trusted by the unions, shows that strike action works.
ABCC on the beat
But, typically, the ABCC branded the strikes at the desal plant, and the solidarity action across the country, “illegal acts” under Howard’s Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act (BCCII).
Brian Boyd, secretary of Victorian Trades Hall Council, has pinned his hopes on a formal complaint to the police over the fact that Townsend is an unlicensed private investigator in Victoria.
But the police will not seriously investigate the bosses’ criminal activities—look at the record of the ABCC!
The construction unions should respond to any attempt to fine workers or their unions for taking action at Thiess with the same strikes and walkouts that met the revelation of industrial spying. Only then will the right to strike in defence of workplace safety or against the bosses’ dirty tricks be safe.
By a Victorian CFMEU member