In a clear win for the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU), the Fair Work Commission (FWC) has ruled that Eureka Flags and other union banners can be flown from cranes on building sites.
The decision is another setback for the federal Coalition government and its industrial police force, the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).
Commissioner Bernie Riordan ruled on June 4 that flying union or Eureka flags did not breach the government's building industry code. The code prohibits any conduct that would imply that joining a building union is other than an individual choice.
"The display of a Eureka Flag over the course of Australia's history has been associated with a variety of causes and campaigns," Riordan said, according to The Australian on June 4. "I am not aware of the CFMMEU having an intellectual property right over its use and meaning."
The CFMMEU and building company Watpac had asked the FWC to make a "without prejudice" recommendation in relation to the meaning of the code in this respect. Riordan recommended Watpac refrain from issuing directions to employees to remove the Eureka and CFMMEU flags from cranes, and not take disciplinary action against workers previously asked to remove flags.
Dave Noonan, national secretary of the CFMMEU's construction division, said the decision showed the folly of the ABCC's "bizarre ideological culture wars". He said the Eureka Flag commemorated the 1854 rebellion at the Eureka Stockade and the struggle for Australian democracy.
"The ABCC can't kill it, the neo-Nazis can't steal it," Noonan said. "It belongs to Australia and working people."
ACTU secretary Sally McManus said unions were glad the commission dismissed the "absurd restrictions" on the rights of workers to fly the flags.
"The ABCC is a politicised agency that has constantly run afoul of the courts and the commission. Its last director resigned in disgrace. It should be abolished," she said.