A Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU) member in South Australia has become the second worker to face charges for refusing to speak to the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).
Established by the Howard government in 2005, the ABCC is like a secret police force for the building industry. It seeks to break the industrial strength of the building unions, and has been widely criticised for its star chamber powers. When interrogated by the ABCC, unionists do not have the right to remain silent and can be jailed for non-cooperation.
A May 15 Workplace Express article reported that the ABCC has recently referred a new brief to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
The brief refers to the worker refusing to answer questions about an alleged illegal industrial action. The ABCC claims the worker refused to attend an interview in October last year.
The worker is due to appear in the Adelaide Magistrates Court in the northern suburb of Elizabeth on June 9. On May 18, CFMEU state secretary Martin O'Malley told Workplace Express the member was "just an ordinary bloke on the tools who doesn't see why he should dob in his mates and go along with laws that are absolutely wrong".
O'Malley said it was outrageous the worker should face charges under Howard's laws after he had taken part in the struggle to get Kevin Rudd elected and have Work Choices torn up. But, despite an election promise to abolish it, Rudd is instead planning to incorporate the ABCC's draconian powers into Labor's Fair Work Australia.
The alleged illegal industrial action came about because the workers were seeking safer conditions on the job. The worker faces up to six months jail if convicted. O'Malley stressed the union would support the worker throughout the legal process.
Green Left Weekly was told the CFMEU will try to have the hearing moved from Elizabeth to central Adelaide, where there will be more potential for a mass protest on the day of the hearing. The state branch of the union has received messages of support and offers of help from all around Australia.
Last year, CFMEU Victorian senior vice-president Noel Washington was to stand trial as the first person charged for refusing to talk to the ABCC. Huge protests were organised in his defence and, six days before the trial was due to start, the DPP dropped the charges.
[To find out more about the campaign to abolish the ABCC, visit www.rightsonsite.org.au]