By Nicholas Hartman
66 construction workers are facing individual fines of up to $42,000 after staging an unlawful one-day strike at a luxury apartment project, AFR reports.
The Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) is prosecuting the workers as it claims they decided to take out a stop-work action over the removal of Construction, Forestry, Manufacturing, Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU) flags from the building site.
In an unusual step, the ABCC is directly prosecuting the workers and not the union, despite the fact that two union officials were present on site.
In its statement, the ABCC claims that more than 100 workers from five subcontractors met to discuss several issues with the project, at 6am in the smoko sheds. At the time, two CFMMEU union officials were present.
It is alleged that at this meeting these workers discussed the taken down union flags, workers being on site despite ostensibly having a rostered day off, as well as an employee of the project taking photos of safety matters with workers included in the images. It is also believed workers were having personality clashes with the project’s safety officer.
After this meeting 66 workers from just over half-a-dozen subcontractors decided to leave the site for the rest of the day.
The ABCC alleges that the workers “prevented each of these [subcontractors] providing building work to the project as required” but does not allege that the union organised the walk off.
Recently the Morrison Government has said it would review workplace laws, including policies to stymie unlawful unions. The Ensuring Integrity Bill will look to ease the ability of courts to deregister unions and disqualify union organisers, as well as introduce a “fit and proper” personal test for union officials.
However, CFMMEU construction division secretary Dave Noonan says this case undermines the Governement’s narrative about lawless unions.
“This is actually about the government prosecuting individual workers,” he said.
“The community would wonder why government agencies would spend such huge amounts of money and legal resources to try to punish workers for taking industrial action when wage theft is rampant across the economy [and] when we’ve got a crisis in confidence in building standards.”
It is believed that, if successful, the total amount of fines could top. $2.75 million.
The first hearing of the case will be on 15 August.