Unjust and unfair – Howard sues building workers

July 7, 2006

A union-busting test case is currently before the Federal Court in Western Australia after building workers attached to the $1.5 Billion Perth to Mandurah “cross city tunnel” project walked off the job to support a sacked shop steward. The workers are likely to face jail time if they refuse to pay fines of up to $28,000 each.The fines are likely to come as a government-appointed body called the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) seeks to prosecute the builders for an eight day strike on the Perth site after the employer sacked the site’s union delegate, Peter Ballard. The general manager of the project had “no inkling” the ABCC was bringing prosecutions until just before summonses were served on employees and noted concerns that the action could seriously undermine morale on the site.

During the strike the ABCC sent personal letters to the homes of 107 of the 430 workers concerned, targeting union activists and seeking to break the strike by demanding they explain why they were not at work. The prosecution of the 107 workers is likely to cost up to $10 million and run over a number of years given the legislation has not yet been tested in the courts.

For the first time in a century a government body has now directly intervened in a dispute between a private company and its workers in an effort drive democratically elected unions out of the industry.  Far more seriously though the federal government is now seeking to fine workers individually when they have taken collective industrial action to support a workmate sacked on the basis of his union activities.


Simon Flynn

State Secretary