The Socialist Alliance released the statement below on September 4.
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The Socialist Alliance stands in solidarity with members of the Construction, Forestry, Mining Energy Union (CFMEU) who are fighting for basic rights on Grocon building sites such as:
• The right to be represented by union nominated and elected shop stewards and health and safety representatives,
• The right to talk to a union organiser without interference,
• The right to work without being stood over for being a union activist, and
• The right to wear union stickers and clothing and to put up a union poster in the lunch shed.
At the heart of the dispute is Grocon’s attempt to de-unionise its building sites by getting rid of union shop stewards and health and safety representatives.
Traditionally, the CFMEU nominates senior, experienced shop stewards and health and safety representatives at the start of new building projects. Why? Building sites are dangerous places to work — 50 construction workers still die on the job each year in Australia.
Workplace hazards change daily, and even hourly on a construction site. Building sites have a transient workforce. Sub-contractors and their employees can change daily on a site. Usually, the shop steward and health and safety rep are the only workers who are consistently employed on a building site for the entire life of the job.
With fewer than 50 WorkSafe construction inspectors in Victoria, full-time CFMEU shop stewards and health and safety reps on building sites are vital to guaranteeing safety on site and guaranteeing that all workers are paid properly.
Grocon wants to nominate its own people as shop stewards and health and safety representatives, despite having agreed to union shop stewards during enterprise bargaining negotiations in April.
Socialist Alliance congratulates the CFMEU for maintaining its blockade of the Melbourne Grocon construction site since August 22, despite intimidation and violence.
The Socialist Alliance condemns Premier Ted Baillieu’s Victorian Liberal government for its daily mobilisation of hundreds of police, horses and dogs to surround the Grocon site and threaten unionists. On August 28, they violently attacked the unionists with horses, capsicum spray and batons. The Baillieu government has now joined with Grocon in Supreme Court action against the CFMEU.
The Baillieu government introduced its own anti-union code of practice for the building industry in July. This compliments the federal Labor government’s “Un-Fair” Work Act.
These laws prohibits workers from picketing for basic union rights on the job, while greedy, anti-union bosses like Grocon owner Daniel Grollo can continue to deny workers their right to union representation, and can collude with police and the government to threaten workers and the union, with impunity.
Grollo has a history of hostility to unions. Back in 2000, he tried to exclude the CFMEU from negotiations over pay and conditions on Grocon sites and offered individual non-union contracts to construction workers. He failed in this attempt.
Socialist Alliance says:
• Support the CFMEU.
• Support the right to organise on the job, including the right for union shop stewards.
• Repeal Gillard’s anti-worker laws.
• Abolish the Victorian anti-union code of practice for the building industry.