One hundred and seven building workers face fines of up to $28,000 each after the Howard government decided to personally prosecute them for striking.
The workers, who were building the $1.5 billion Perth to Mandurah railway, walked off the job in late-February, after the sacking of a union delegate who complained about repeated health and safety breaches.
The delegate, Peter Ballard, launched an unfair dismissal case and won a confidential out-of-court settlement.
The Australian Building Construction Commission (ABCC), set up by the federal government to police the building industry, could not prosecute the workers’ union, the CFMEU, because union officials had not approved strike action.
So the ABCC moved to sue individual workers under special laws applying only to the building industry.
Now 107 rank-and-file workers, and their families, face massive fines and the possible loss of their houses, if convicted.
The entire union movement is giving strong support to the building workers.
ACTU Secretary Greg Combet said the union movement has launched a fighting fund to defend workers prosecuted under the new regime.
‘We’ll fight for them wherever we need to and for anyone else who faces the same treatment,’ he said.
ACTU President Sharan Burrow said: ‘We are going to see these laws ripped up. They are not decent. This is not an Australia we want.
‘If the government turns its back on working Australians, then we will turn our back on a government which doesn’t deserve to rule our country.’
Caption: NSWNA members formed part of the group of 107 union members attached to a chain to represent the 107 Australian construction workers charged under the Howard government’s harsh industrial relations laws.
Nurses support threatened families
Therese Riley and other NSWNA members attended a late-August rally in support of the 107 building workers facing crippling fines.
Therese is an NSWNA Councillor and an RN, working in staff education at St George Hospital.
She first heard about the plight of the Western Australian building workers at the NSWNA Conference in July, where a resolution of support was passed.
‘I think it’s really important that we have a knowledge of what’s happening in other industries,’ said Therese.
‘We shouldn’t believe we will escape these attacks, so we need to support each other.’
Therese said that fines of more than $28,000 were an attack on families. ‘It’s abhorrent.’
And she said that nurses should not be complacent.
‘Sometimes things happen by stealth. We’ve seen examples of this even in our own industry. It can happen in health as well.’
Therese attended the support rally ‘to display our support for workers in other industries’ and to ‘stand up for our democratic rights’.
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