Union attacked over 'unlawful' strikes


The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) — the new name for the Howard government-established Workplace Ombudsman – has launched its first prosecution against a union for "unlawful" industrial action.

On October 19, the FWO prosecuted the Transport Workers Union (TWU) for organising an "unlawful" strike among baggage handlers in December 2007 in Adelaide and Melbourne. On October 27, it again prosecuted the union, for a further stoppage on March 30.

In both cases, the union was responding to attempts by Qantas to outsource baggage handling, cut workers' wages and conditions and reduce jobs.

The union has been prosecuted for a breach of Work Choices laws, which prohibit any industrial action outside of a recognised bargaining period for a new collective agreement.

The union faces fines of up to $66,000 for each incident. Union organisers face fines of up to $6600 each.

The prosecutions relate to the Work Choices legislation, but under the ALP's new Fair Work Act "unlawful" industrial action outside of a bargaining period attracts the same penalties.

TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon told the October 27 Australian the FWO "want[s] to silence the workforce and silence the union, including myself".