“A spiteful attempt to intimidate every community activist who may in future wish to assist workers in obtaining justice”—this is how a leaflet distributed to Victorian building sites by the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) described the charges against victimised trade union activist, Bob Carnegie.
Bob is being sued by property development giant Lend Lease after helping with a successful nine week strike at a construction site at the Queensland Children’s Hospital in Brisbane, managed by a Lend Lease subsidiary, Abigroup.
He was originally charged with 54 offences, now reduced to 18 after others were withdrawn or returned not guilty findings. A decision on the remaining charges is due on 2 April. The stakes are high. If Lend Lease wins, Bob could face fines of up to $400,000 and a prison sentence. Damages could run into the millions of dollars.
As Bob’s trial began in February, hundreds of workers in Sydney and Brisbane walked off the job at Lend Lease, followed by Melbourne sites the next day. Rightly, unions are threatening more strike action. “If Bob Carnegie is jailed, they’ll wear the consequences”—was CFMEU National Secretary Dave Noonan’s message at the rally in Sydney.
Bob has rightly described the charges as “an act of intimidation” and declared his “moral duty” to defend workers’ rights as more important than any legal one.
Lend Lease is seeking revenge for the victorious strike at Abigroup that forced them to negotiate an Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) with unions, which included a clause that all workers employed by subcontractors be paid the job rate.
Subcontracting in the construction industry is often used to evade wages and conditions workers have won through union agreements.
Bob, a former MUA official, stepped in to help the workers organise after other union leaders were injuncted off site. Under Labor’s Fair Work Act, employers have nearly free reign to ban union officials from picket lines in order to break strikes.
Building solidarity for Bob will make the courts think twice about sending him to jail. What can’t be won there will need to be won in the streets.
After initial hesitation, unions across the country have now backed him, and support has also poured in from across the world.