On October 30, construction worker Ark Tribe will go to court in Adelaide. Workers will take solidarity protest actions across the country to show support for their fellow worker. Tribe has been unjustly targeted by the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).
Tribe was charged with failing to attend a secret interrogation with the ABCC, which amounts to criminal conduct. The ABCC was set up by the previous Howard government in 2005 to address allegedly widespread lawlessness and violence in the industry.
Under the building industry watchdog's coercive powers, Tribe faces a jail sentence of up to six months and/or a maximum fine of $22,000 if found guilty of non-compliance. No boss has ever been charged by the ABCC.
The ABCC investigation related to an occupational health and safety issue on a Flinders University building site where Tribe worked.
The safety conditions at the site were so bad that the workers drew up a petition to the boss, asking for safety improvements. The Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU) and the state government safety regulator intervened to address the safety concerns. This fact seems to be of little importance to the ABCC.
Tribe's case highlights the political nature of the building industry watchdog. The Building Construction Industry Improvement Act, which regulates certain forms of industrial behaviour, never dealt with criminal conduct.
However, this changed with the introduction of the ABCC — a body set up to penalise "unlawful" industrial action taken by workers and their unions. The ABCC is the first government body tasked with ensuring compliance with industrial laws that has coercive powers.
Tribe's courageous stand to defy the undemocratic powers of the ABCC is commendable and should be emulated. The ABCC makes it harder for workers to take action over health and safety issues, which puts their lives in danger.
A strong cross-union campaign to abolish the ABCC is needed to send the ABCC to the dustbin of history where it belongs.
[The October 30 rallies in support of Tribe will occur in: South Australia, 11am, southern end of Victoria Square, Adelaide; NSW, 11am, Trades Hall, 4 Goulburn street, Sydney; Victoria, 9.30am, ABCC headquarters, 533 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne; and Tasmania, Time tbc, ABCC headquarters, 142 Elizabeth Street, Hobart.]