Union and commission stand off

May 15, 2002


MELBOURNE — On May 6, Anne Duggan, the Victorian training officer of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), was ordered by Commissioner Terence Cole to give the royal commission into the building industry the names of all union members who had participated in training courses during the past four years. She has refused to do so, risking up to six months in jail and a $1000 fine.

Cole has told Duggan that she has until May 13 to deliver the names, or face the penalty. Duggan's decision was discussed in, and supported by, the CFMEU.

"We believe the lists may be used by the commission and by employers to harass militant unionists, or to deny them employment", CFMEU committee of management member Michael Bull told Green Left Weekly.

While Cole scoffs at such claims, during the 1980s thousands of militant unionists who would not leave the deregistered Builders Labourers Federation were black-listed for up to a decade.

The commission has also issued subpoenas to CFMEU Victorian president John Cummins, Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union state secretary Craig Johnston, and Tom Watson, the acting secretary of the Federated Engine Drivers and Firemens Association, as well as a number of union organisers and shop stewards.

The CFMEU plans to call stop-work rallies whenever a member is subpoenaed. The unions are also encouraging the development of a community support movement.

The royal commission has recently announced it will begin investigating tax evasion and occupational health and safety problems in the building industry.

"This is an attempt to disguise the anti-union character of the commission", Bull argued. "Hearings on these issues will be held in private conference, unlike the public hearings attacking the unions."

Cole has complained about the small number of submissions to the enquiry, not only from unions but also from employers and governments. After requesting 150 employers to make a submission, only 29 responded. "I think Cole is using the tax evasion investigation to get bosses to come forward and help him attack the unions", Bull said.

"A lot of employers are reluctant to join the commission's witch-hunt because they don't want disruption in the industry. Ninety-five percent of construction projects are coming in on time and on budget."

"The commission was set up by the federal government in order to attack militant unions in Victoria and WA", Bull continued. "The government is furious because of the use of pattern bargaining [lining up the end-date of workplace agreements to enable industry-wide campaigns] and the unions' use of industrial action to defend fellow unionists."

A public meeting in support of construction unions will be held at 5pm on May 22 at the Regent Theatre on Collins Street. Confirmed speakers include Jenny Macklin, the deputy leader of the Labor Party in federal parliament; Sharan Burrow, the secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions; former Victorian premier Joan Kirner; and Jack Mundey, former New South Wales secretary of the Builders Labourers Federation.

From Green Left Weekly, May 15, 2002.
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