As if to emphasise that anti-strike laws didn’t arrive with WorkChoices and won’t leave with it either, on Monday the Federal Court fined the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and a building contractor for asking for and giving strike pay.
The incident in question happened in August 2003, under the pre-WorkChoices Workplace Relations Act. A building worker died in Shepparton, and in line with union policy, workers at another site in Melbourne stopped working until a safety audit was conducted on their own site. They returned to work the next day. Their contractor employer, B&P Caelli Constructions, paid them for the day off, which was a breach of the Act.
Along comes the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), which was set up by the Federal government in 2005 as an extra police force for the the building industry. It’s not clear how the Commission heard about the two-year-old case, but since its main raison d’etre is to police labour organisation in construction, it’s pretty clear why it would prosecute both parties.
Last September the Commission lost, and judge Tony North attacked the provision in the law prohibiting pay during a safety audit stoppage. [Masanauskus, Australian Financial Review, 12 September, 2006] But on Monday the Commission won its appeal. According to the union, about $500,000 was spent on prosecuting a total of $11,000 in fines.
Like I said the other day, eventually strikes are going to run seriously up against these laws, which are tighter under WorkChoices, and the ALP doesn’t look like changing them. The right to strike is not on the agenda, and though Labor is promising to replace the nasty ABCC with a specialist branch of its proposed workplace regulator, a day after this fine was imposed Gillard was promising that a Labor government would continue to take a “zero tolerance policy” in the construction industry.
[Rachel Nickless, "Court gets tough on strike pay", and Mark Skulley, "ALP: we'll tighten the reins", Australian Financial Review, 16 May, 2007]