Building unions take on ABCC

At an April 7 combined delegates and shop stewards meeting, 500 members from the Building Industry Group (BIG) unions decided in a unanimous vote to hold a mass protest on April 28.

The protest will be against the notoriously anti-union Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).

The BIG unions include members of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the Australian Workers Union, the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU), the Electrical Trades Union, and the Plumbing Trades Employees Union.

April 28 is International Workers' Memorial Day, a day honouring the 2 million people a year worldwide who die from accidents at work or work-related illnesses.

The mass meeting came after the public release of a federal government report into the ABCC, by former supreme court judge Murray Wilcox.

The ABCC was set up in 2005 by the then Coalition government with the aim to crush the industrial muscle of the militant construction unions.

The Wilcox report's key proposal is to keep the compulsory interrogation powers of the ABCC. Unions say these powers single out unionists and are used to suppress industrial action by workers on building sites.

The April 7 delegates meeting also discussed and voted on several resolutions.

The meeting condemned the key proposals of the Wilcox report, called on PM Kevin Rudd to abolish the ABCC outright, and said the government must repeal the Building Industry Improvement Act — the law that set up the ABCC.

Workers also voted in favour of a non-cooperation policy with the ABCC. The policy mirrors the brave stand of CFMEU official Noel Washington. In 2008, Washington refused to go to an ABCC grilling despite the threat of six months' jail.

The call for non-cooperation was combined with a call for an industrial "response" from construction unions and the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) should somebody be
jailed or otherwise punished for non-cooperation.

CFMEU national secretary Dave Noonan gave a fiery speech at the meeting. He sharply criticised the Wilcox report and condemned the ALP's federal election backflip on workers' rights.

Before the election, the ALP told workers it would "rip up" the anti-union Work Choices laws. In fact, the ALP had a "dirty little secret" — it had promised the building industry bosses that former PM John Howard's ABCC would not be closed down.

Noonan also said the Wilcox report failed to take issue with the most pressing problems in the construction industry — the high number of workplace deaths and the wearing down of health and safety conditions on sites.

Australian Industry Group chief executive Heather Ridout welcomed the Wilcox report as good for construction bosses in the April 6 Construction Contractor.

Ridout said the report "once and for all strongly refutes the arguments constantly put by the ACTU and the construction unions that the construction industry should not be treated as a special case".

The truth is that building workers are already treated as a "special case" under the laws. With the ABCC intact, building workers and their unions are singled out for discrimination and denied their basic human rights.

For more information on the campaign to abolish the ABCC visit