Noel Washington, vice-president of the Victorian branch of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), is to appear before the Geelong Magistrates Court on August 8 for refusing to attend a compulsory Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) hearing.
Washington is the first person to be charged for defying the ABCC and could face a six month jail sentence. The CFMEU official has been charged for refusing to disclose what was discussed at a union meeting outside of work time and off site. Under the undemocratic powers of the ABCC, it is illegal to remain silent if called for interrogation.
The ABCC was set up under the former Howard government to intimidate workers and break the strength of the unions involved in the building industry. To the delight of big business, the Rudd government has pledged to keep the ABCC until 2010, after which its draconian powers are to be incorporated into Labor's new "Fair Work Australia" industrial relations regime.
The ABCC can fine individual construction workers up to $22,000 for taking industrial action over issues such as health and safety in one of the most dangerous industries in Australia. A national campaign to abolish the ABCC was launched in May by five building industry unions.
A rally in support of Washington has been called for Thursday June 26, at 9am outside the ABCC, 553 St. Kilda Road, Melbourne.