Over 100 Australian workers in court over walkout

107 workers and their families will face court today in Perth, facing prosecution for taking industrial action following the sacking of their union representative.

Submitted by Joseph Kay on August 29, 2006

In the first test of the Howard Government’s new building and construction IR (Industial Relations) laws, 107 workers and their families will be in court today in Perth, facing prosecution for taking alleged industrial action following the sacking of their union representative. The workers face fines of up to AUS$28,600 (£11,500).

They withdrew their labour when multinational joint venture partners Leighton Kumagai (LKJV) refused to reinstate sacked union representative Peter Ballard unless the workers and the union unconditionally dropped all negotiations to fix long-standing safety concerns and excessive working hours issues and accepted all company-imposed changes to agreed work practices without negotiation or resistance.

Secretary of the West Australian Branch of the CFMEU, Mr. Kevin Reynolds, said that the court appearance of 107 workers puts on display the punitive nature of the Howard Government’s IR agenda.

The Howard government’s IR laws, known collectively as WorkChoices, were introduced in 2005 and supported by employer groups - the Business Council of Australia is to spend approximately AUS$6,000,000 (£2.5m) supporting the laws - but bitterly opposed by the labour movement. The provisions are a broad attack on workers’ rights, including exemptions from unfair dismissal laws for bosses where dismissal is for “a bona fide operational reason”.

Mr. Reynolds said that Australians would be shocked to know the real extent of the Howard Government’s attack on workers rights, with workers now facing investigations, interrogations and prosecutions for fighting for better conditions and safe workplaces.

“The only reason that building workers have achieved decent safety standards and wages and conditions in this country is because the union exists,” said Mr. Reynolds. “Under the Howard Government, the basic right to vote to take strike action in support of better conditions and a safe workplace has now been criminalised.”

“Let us be very clear – the employer is not taking these workers to court today - John Howard is. What’s happening in Federal Court today in WA is a Federal Government using all its powers to intimidate workers so that big international corporations like Leighton can drive down wages, conditions and safety in our industry,” Mr. Reynolds said.

More info:
Wikipedia on WorkChoices
Indymedia article