Unions challenge Big Brother powers

September 13, 2008

While "Blue Glue" may sound like a new party drug, it's in fact much more sinister and less fun. According to the company of the same name, Blue Glue is a marvel of innovation, "helping clients create secure environments, manage information and deploy global solutions", says the Defence Materiel Organisation's website.

In lay terms, Blue Glue is a highly sophisticated and integrated security system for construction sites. Bovis Lend Lease, one of the world's largest construction companies, plans to introduce the Blue Glue swipe cards on its four Melbourne building sites. BLL wants to make it mandatory for all workers to have a Blue Glue swipe card in order to work on its sites.

On August 5, BLL tried to start the swipe card system at its Royal Children's Hospital site, but construction workers refused to enter the site in protest. BLL applied to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to stop industrial action at aall of its four sites and claims in its AIRC application that "'Blue Glue' is a core part of [its] commitment to safety".

Victorian Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) president Ralph Edwards told Green Left Weekly that workers hadn't taken industrial action but simply decided to all go to the AIRC hearings over a number of days to represent themselves. "That produced no work on-site, which is Bovis' own fault", he said.

Unionists and workers dispute BLL's claim that Blue Glue is about safety and suggest it has more to do with surveillance of workers and keeping the union out. Once introduced, the swipe card will be essential to get through a turnstile in order to enter the fenced-off building site. The card will have a photo of the individual worker and his/her details programmed into it.

The card can be reprogrammed any time without the person's knowledge, giving the company the ability to deny workers access to the workplace or even leading to potential imprisonment on the site.

Edwards said that the Blue Glue GPS system can track workers and deny them access to their workplace "simply because somebody put something on the computer which questions whether a person has worked safely or is late or whatever. Once you get three hits the card is automatically turned off and you can't get access. It's a police state."

Union organisers and officials will also find it hard to access their members on-site. According to a statement by the Electrical Trades Union, ETU organiser Troy Gray has already been accused of trespassing at the ANZ site by Bovis industrial relations manager Stephen Broadhead.

Bill Oliver, CFMEU Victorian assistant state secretary, was manhandled by a special police force even though he had been asked to come onto the site to explain the union's point of view on the issue, Edwards told GLW.

Edwards said that the union was engaged in a process of mediation with the company after the AIRC determined that no industrial action was to be taken and following the federal court's preliminary orders directing BLL not to introduce Blue Glue cards and the union not to take industrial action.

The plumbers' union also rejects the Bovis card outright and warns on its website that the Blue Glue system with its photo ID could be used to blacklist workers.

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