More than 500 unionists, mainly Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and Builders Labourers Federation (BLF) members, rallied outside the Brisbane Magistrates Court on February 11 in support of long-term union and community activist, Bob Carnegie.
Carnegie appeared before the court on 54 charges of contempt of court arising from his leadership of a nine-week strike by 600 workers at the Queensland Children’s Hospital (QCH) site from late July to early October last year. Workers had taken action in support of demands for a union enterprise agreement with the main contractor, Abigroup, a subsidiary of Lend Lease Corporation.
Injunctions were served against officials of the CFMEU, BLF, Electrical Trade Union and Plumbers Union to stay away from the site, in a bid to crush the strike. The workers continued the dispute as a community protest, seeking help from Bob Carnegie to help them organise.
Abigroup refused to negotiate until September 4. After the sustained community picket and strike action, which included a national strike of construction workers in other Lend Lease companies on September 25 and 26, Abigroup finally conceded to the workers’ demands in early October.
The rally marked the first day of the legal proceedings against Carnegie, who was facing the prospect of fines up to $400,000 and a possible prison sentence.
Chairing the rally, National Tertiary Education Union member Tom Bramble recalled Carnegie’s proud history of union activism dating from the South-East Queensland Electricity Board (SEQEB) dispute in 1985, where he was the first person arrested, later arrested nine times, and jailed for three weeks.
Other speakers included a QCH worker, Ron Monahan from the Queensland Council of Unions, Dani Shanahan from the National Union of Workers, and Shane Bentley and Shaun Ambrose, members of the Maritime Union of Australia who had flown from Sydney and reported on the solidarity that the Carnegie campaign had received across Australia and internationally.
Loudly calling for “Hands off Bob” and for the charges to be dropped, the rallying workers formed a guard of honour for Carnegie as he entered court, before taking to the streets to continue the protest outside the Brisbane offices of Lend Lease.
Carnegie pleaded not guilty to all 54 charges, the bulk of which were withdrawn. The hearing on the 18 remaining charges continued until February 13. The case has now been adjourned until April 4. Action has also been undertaken through Fair Work Australia. The case is due to be heard in July.
To support the ongoing campaign visit the Bob Carnegie Defence Campaign.