Hundreds of trade unionists braved the rain at Solidarity Park, outside the WA State Parliament, on March 21 to protest against what the organisers describe as a “war on workers”.
The rally was hosted by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), and heard from various unions and members of parliament.
WA state secretary of the CFMEU Mick Buchan stressed the importance of a national campaign against the Australia Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), saying: “The ABCC encourages casualisation in the work place, no limits [on working hours], no permanency and no job security.
“Dodgy labour hire companies are running riot across this state. We’re seeing fatality after fatality in the construction industry, and the main reason workers are dying is because the company involved refuses to ensure that known hazards are dealt with.
“These same companies have the full backing of the federal government and working people are dying as a result.”
In WA, a worker is killed at work every 10 weeks. Two young construction workers have died in WA on different sites in the recent months.
Greens spokesperson Alison Xamon said the Greens intend to reintroduce a bill for industrial manslaughter in which a boss faces up to 20 year’s jail if they are convicted of negligence which contributes to serious injury or death.
Xamon congratulated Sally McManus, the newly elected Australian Congress of Trades Union secretary who, in her first national interview, stated that bad laws need to be broken.
Xamon said: “What we have by way of workers’ rights and social gains have largely come about via mass civil disobedience of unjust laws. We must be open to non-violent disobedience now as ever before.”
Garry Wood, from the CFMEU mining division, told the protest how Collie mine maintenance workers are fighting a $40,000 pay cut as part of a new enterprise agreement being pushed by the bosses.
Since their enterprise bargaining agreement ended, their wages have been cut to the award rate of $24 an hour. For decades, their hourly rate was $64. Their accrued entitlement pay over 30 years is now being paid out at the much lower hourly rate, meaning working people’s income is becoming savings for the company.
This is not an isolated attack: workers at Griffin Coal in the state’s south-west have had their redundancy pay cut from $280,000 to $81,000.
Before marching to the offices of federal minister Michaelia Cash, ETU state secretary Les McLaughlan concluded the rally by reminding us that work conditions and benefits have only come about from the actions of strong unions.
“The union movement is under major attack. The battles aren’t just a thing of the past. We are in the middle of one now and working people need to … get active in standing up for their rights.”