Industrial cops target building workers

Issue 

Noel Washington, vice-president of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) Victorian branch, has been charged by the Australian Building and Construction Commissioner with new offences under the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act.

This is less than one month after a 1000-strong rally in Geelong supported Washington as he faced charges for refusing to co-operate with the ABCC.

In the new case, the ABCC claims that in October 2006, Washington held a stop-work meeting with four workers employed by a sub-contractor and allegedly threatened to establish a picket line on a construction site in Melbourne's Southbank precinct.

The case will be heard on October 24.

CFMEU construction and general division national secretary Dave Noonan said the ABCC was attempting to smear the reputation of Washington in the lead-up to his trial in December

"These proceedings are linked with the fact that Noel Washington is being prosecuted for refusing to attend an interview with the ABCC.

"It is clear the ABCC is embarrassed by the public scrutiny that is starting to occur of their extraordinary and repressive powers", Noonan said.

Victorian unionists have already begun to wonder whether the construction unions in the state are bearing the brunt of the "extraordinary and repressive powers".

There have been a total of 31 completed or current ABCC prosecutions in Victoria. Compare this with 14 prosecutions in NSW, seven in Western Australia, two each in Queensland, South Australia and the ACT, one in Tasmania and none in the Northern Territory. Only one of the Victorian cases was brought by construction unions against the ABCC itself. This was an unsuccessful application to stop the ABCC from conducting an investigation for an alleged improper purpose.

Clearly the Victorian construction industry, which traditionally has been the most industrially militant of all the states, is under the most scrutiny.

There are a number of other significant ABCC prosecutions in Victoria. Former Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) state secretary Craig Johnston, is being prosecuted for unlawful industrial action.

Johnston allegedly forced the unloading of a truck to be delayed by two hours in an attempt to have another labourer employed on the job. The case continues on October 20.

Johnston was the only unionist jailed for the Skilled Engineering/Johnson Tiles dispute in 2001.

There have been two cases where CFMEU shop stewards and one "peggy" (a site amenities cleaner) have been charged with denying freedom of association rights under the Workplace Relations Act. In both cases, workers were allegedly forced to join the union before commencing work at their sites.

In one case CFMEU shop steward Jason Deans was found guilty, while the Mick Dempster and Dick Henry case is listed for further hearing on November 14.

Meanwhile the AMWU state council has decided that they will be leading a rally outside a major prosecution by the ABCC in Morewell on October 30.

It is alleged that officials from the AMWU, the Australian Workers Union and the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union led unlawful industrial action at the Maryvale Pulp Mill Project by holding a mass meeting of employees.