MORE THAN 100 building workers at a Perth construction site face fines of more than $28,000 each after the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) sued them for walking off the job.
In the first prosecution under the Federal Government’s WorkChoices legislation, the ABCC is suing 107 out of 400 workers on the $1.5 billion Perth to Mandurah railway project individually, as their union advised them not to strike.
The workers, who also contravened an Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) order, were protesting against the sacking of a union shop steward.
The workers walked off the job for seven days in late February, at an estimated cost of $200,000 a day to construction company Leighton, according to ABCC commissioner, John Lloyd.
Each worker faces a maximum penalty of $22,000 for breaching section 38 of the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act 2005 and a further $6,600 for contravening an AIRC order which directed the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and its members not to take industrial action.
The building industry in Western Australia was too often plagued by unlawful industrial activity and a disregard for the rule of law, according to Kevin Andrews, Minister Employment and Workplace Relations.
“The disruption to the Perth to Mandurah railway project is a classic example of this sort of illegal and irresponsible behaviour,” he said.
“I am disappointed to hear that building unions in Western Australia are continuing to put their members at risk of significant penalties by defying the law in relation to unlawful industrial action in the building industry.”
However, John Sutton, construction national secretary for the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), said the 107 workers were the first union members to face political persecution in more than 50 years.
“This is not a case of workers taking industrial action being docked pay or even about the employer attempting to recover for economic loss,” he said.
The prosecutions are the latest in a spate of industrial problems on the Perth to Mandurah railway line.
The 400 workers (all CFMEU members) have previously walked off the job on one day, claiming that they had come down with the flu.
While Kevin Reynolds, secretary of the CFMEU, said this was a legitimate industrial tactic, Geoff Gallop, former Premier of Western Australia, said that “as a government we simply will not support blue flu as a tactic. We believe it’s wrong and undermines the very point of having sick leave in our industrial relations system.”