Grocon takes on the CFMEU

Issue 

BY
SUE BULL

MELBOURNE — Many in Melbourne are watching as Australia’s biggest
builder takes on Australia’s strongest union. Every media outlet raced
to get pictures of 650 Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union
members working for Grocon as they arrived at the Melbourne Town Hall on
December 5 for a CFMEU meeting.

To chants of “the workers united, will never be defeated”, CFMEU state
secretary Martin Kingham led the members from the six Grocon sites into
the Town Hall. Kingham told the workers, “We don’t have the millions of
Daniel Grollo or a team of Liberal ministers backing us — but we do have
the workers and we will win.”

Grollo, co-director of Grocon, had been recently quoted in several newspapers
complaining about “restrictive work practices”. So it was no great surprise
when Grocon employees each received their copy of a non-union agreement
on December 3. It proposed greater “flexibility” in working hours, rostered
days off and working during inclement weather.

The Grocon proposal is not only an attempt to break the CFMEU’s power,
it represents a serious erosion of workers health and safety conditions.

Grollo wants the workers to be prepared to work for 70 hours a week.
The union will not go beyond 56, which averages out to 36 hours when rostered
days off are taken into account, and is an industry standard which more
than 3000 other building companies have agreed to.

Federal workplace relations minister Tony Abbott, who has wanted to
challenge Victorian building unions for some time, is known to be right
behind Grollo. Grollo has admitted meeting with Abbott, but has denied
Grocon’s actions were politically motivated or an anti-union exercise.

When Green Left Weekly spoke to CFMEU members before the meeting,
it was clear that they did not want to return to massive working weeks.
The workers are also aware that if Grollo succeeds, many other employers
will try the same thing. That’s why they unanimously agreed to reject the
agreement, remain solidly behind the union and to consider further industrial
action.

A prominent TV broadcaster was overheard ringing his station to say:
“This whole thing’s a non-event. These blokes are going to eat [Grollo]
alive.”

Rumours suggest Grollo has run into financial difficulties on several
projects, possibly including the $420 million MCG project. Other building
companies are likely to put Grollo under pressure because they will not
want to see massive unrest in the multi-billion dollar industry.

Grollo workers will hold a secret ballot on the agreement on December
18.

From Green Left Weekly, December 11, 2002.

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