Workers take on construction giant Holland

March 14, 2009

Forty workers on the Melbourne Westgate Reconstruction project have lost their jobs after construction giant John Holland's refusal to honour a collective agreement.

The workers had negotiated their agreement with subcontracting firm Civil Pacific Services, but John Holland ignored it, instead negotiating a new one with the Australian Workers Union (AWU). The workers were members of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) and the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU).

According to the AMWU and CFMEU, Holland's agreement would not only reduce shift penalties and offer a lower rate of pay but also significantly deteriorate working conditions. The agreement also introduces a new starter classification with a pay cut of 20% and a six-month probation period. The workers refused to accept the agreement, which led to Civil Pacific Services terminating their employment on March 2.

The sacked workers, who have set up a protest at the worksite, reject Holland's claim that the industrial dispute was sparked because of inter-union rivalry over membership coverage. "This is not a demarcation dispute nor is it just over pay", CFMEU member Canice Lynch told Green Left Weekly. "Holland wants us to accept bad working conditions and less money for dangerous work, which we are not prepared to do."

Lynch said that Holland was using the dispute as a political football and blaming workers for the delay in the construction of the safety barriers on the bridge.

Workers at the protest also told GLW that they were unhappy with Holland's bullyboy tactics, trying to deny them the right to chose their own union. "At our induction interviews we were told that the AWU will be representing us at this job and that Holland would be paying our union fees", they said.

Holland has been trying to replace the sacked workforce with scab labor through Queensland labor hire firm Workpac, but, so far, most of those due to start work have refused to scab — with one Workpac employee even joining the protest.

AMWU and CFMEU officials have been ordered off the site. Legal proceedings were also initiated by Holland against three union officials for damages resulting from an alleged "illegal strike action", after an initial picket on February 6 relating to the dispute.

GLW has been told that, depending on Holland's next moves, the protest could develop in to a 24-hour picket from March 16, 5.30am onwards. To support the sacked workers, visit the protest site opposite the Westgate Bridge memorial at Hyde Street, in Spotswood.

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