Sue Bull, Geelong
Two hundred and fifty trade unionists and supporters chanting "Rats out!" forced the Australian Building and Construction Commission to abandon a planned employers' information session here on June 5.
The ABCC, better known as "the task force", was created by the federal government last year to investigate and prosecute alleged illegal practices in the construction industry. It is currently touring Australia, holding employer training sessions about the National Code of Practice and the task force's powers.
The session at the Mercure Hotel was stopped when protesters marched from the Geelong Trades Hall, entered the training room and made speeches. They held up placards stating "No rats!", "Defend our civil rights" and "Up yours, Howard". The police were contacted and task force personnel told the protesters that they should leave.
The protesters stayed put for about 90 minutes and the task force eventually packed up their computers and told police that they had cancelled the session.
Tim Gooden, secretary of Geelong Trades Hall (GTH), told Green Left Weekly: "The task force rats, as we call them, have been going around using their coercive powers to attempt to prove that safety stop-works are illegal industrial actions. Such actions, if proven, carry a $20,000 fine per breach for the individual and $120,000 for the union.
"Workers have been forced to sit through four-hour interrogations with several rats, or face an automatic six months in jail if they don't cooperate. If they endure the interrogation but then tell somebody about it, they go to jail for six months. This is totally unjust and an abuse of our civil rights. Workers have a right to be angry."
Christine Couzens, GTH vice-president and women's officer, added: "We are having so many people show up to rallies now because they know these laws can be expanded from building workers to affect everyone. Already the rats' powers are being extended to other industries, like refineries.
"The protesters here today included women, students, young and older people, academics, teachers, politicians and workers from several industries. We can't be silent and sit by while workers are being harassed and bullied by Howard's rats.
"If they are allowed to continue unexposed, construction industry workers will be too intimidated to raise safety issues or move motions, for fear of being targeted for fines and jail. Already we have seen a sharp increase in industrial deaths in this very dangerous industry."
From Green Left Weekly, June 14, 2006.
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