Should workers have the unfettered right to withdraw their labour - RC Groups
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Jul 06, 2006, 06:51 PM
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gtstubbs's Avatar

Should workers have the unfettered right to withdraw their labour

There really is no right to strike in Western Australia.

Our federal government has upped the ante with these prosecutions

Should there be an unfettered right to strike?

Hundreds of strikers face fines
Ewin Hannan and Paige Taylor
July 07, 2006
HUNDREDS of workers face fines of tens of thousands of dollars each as the Howard Government's building watchdog prepares a wave of legal action against unlawful conduct in the construction industry.

Australian Building and Construction Commissioner John Lloyd yesterday served writs on 107 workers on the troubled Perth-Mandurah rail project, threatening heavy fines over strike action in February, and said there were plans for a further 22 separate prosecutions.

The Perth rail project workers face fines of up to $28,600 each.

Asked about the prospect of further prosecutions, Mr Lloyd told The Australian: "Clearly the message is there is the act. It requires there be lawful conduct in the industry and where it is contravened we will use (the act) where we think it's justified."

The crackdown has sharpened divisions between the Coalition and Labor, with Kim Beazley declaring the fining of individual workers a "bad development" and committing the ALP to the abolition of the Building and Construction Commission.

The Perth workers took strike action in protest against the sacking of shop steward Peter Ballard, despite the union warning they would be fined and an order from the Industrial Relations Commission not to strike.

It is the first time the building commission has used these legal provisions to try to fine individual workers.

"This sort of situation that we see today will not happen under a Labor government," Mr Beazley said. "People should obey orders, of course, from commissions they can respect, and the problem is that those workers find themselves in a situation where they're hampered by John Howard's dog-eat-dog laws and that's what you get when you get this."

Federal Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews said the commission had taken the decision independently but the Government was committed to ensuring the "rule of law" applied in the building industry.

John Sutton, national secretary of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union's construction division, said the decision to prosecute the Perth workers showed the Howard Government was driven by "class hatred".

"It's Big Brother authoritarianism gone mad to reach back into the past and try and deliver retribution against these workers, who were exercising basic democratic rights," he said.

"People don't realise the extreme industrial laws in this country. They are the most extreme anywhere in the Western world.

"Ultimately there is only one solution and that is defeating these mad class-war ideologues at the election, which is 14, 15 months away."

Project developer Leighton, which is suing the CFMEU over 70 lost working days it claims have cost the company $14 million, said it was concerned yesterday's decision would further delay the project, which is already five months behind schedule.

Company spokesman Ashley Mason said industrial relations on the project had substantially improved since the strike in February.

"Over the last few months, we have been getting good productivity and there was a good feeling on the job," he said. "It's not a positive for the project. Whether it's neutral or negative, time will tell. Put yourself in these guys' position and the idea of being dragged into the Federal Court and fined $22,000."

But the nation's peak industry employer group, Master Builders Australia, said the prosecution sent a powerful message to unions and workers that they would be held accountable for unlawful conduct.

"For us, we hope this sends out a very strong signal not only to unionists in WA, but around Australia, that they have got to respect the rule of law, and where they have seen to have broken it, we strongly support the ABCC in bringing these people to book," said the organisation's chief executive, Wilhelm Harnisch.

Building commission investigators have sent 22 briefs to lawyers with a view to initiating prosecutions in Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania for unlawful conduct.

A further 36 investigations were under way in Queensland, NSW, Victoria and Western Australia. Mr Harnisch said the proposed prosecutions "demonstrate that unlawful behaviour remains problematic in the industry".

Mr Lloyd said he believed the Perth workers had taken unlawful action by going on strike between February 24 and March 3 this year.

The maximum penalties that can be imposed on each worker are $22,000 for a contravention of the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act and $6600 for breaching an Industrial Relations Commission ruling.

Mr Lloyd said the union did not contravene the law because it had recommended a return to work and advised the employees they were at risk of substantial penalties.

A building commission spokeswoman last night defended the decision to target just 107 of the workers, despite more than 250 being employed on the job. She said the proceedings were limited to workers who were direct employees of the project joint venture and further proceedings were possible against other workers.

Mr Mason said the decision to target fewer than half the workforce had left employees "confused and bewildered by it all".

"It's not positive in terms of productivity, it's a distraction ... it would have been better if they had done it closer to when the project was due to finish."

He said the strike action by the union had already cost the project between $12 million and $14million.,00.htm
Jul 06, 2006, 07:05 PM
Tu ne cede malis
MtnGoat's Avatar
if you sign away your right to strike given a job with prior and consensual agreement, such as PATCO did before Reynaldus Magnus properly fired them, you have agreed not to strike.

I may be missing something, but i don't see that these workers signed any such agreement. however, it is also within the rights of any employer to fire strikers, in my opinion, unless this is waived by the employer, also by prior agreement.
Jul 06, 2006, 08:09 PM
Registered Taranis User
Miami Mike's Avatar
Here's another article about something called "AWAs". They might be some sort of worker agreements like you mentioned.
Latest blog entry: Taranis: Aileron-To-Rudder Mix.
Jul 07, 2006, 04:19 PM
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sarge's Avatar
If I read the story correctly (and it is reported accurately), the workers are being fined for breaking the law.

Workers should have an unfettered right, as individuals, to withdraw labor. In cases where the worker does so, the employer should have an unfettered right to fire the worker.

Unions (and other protection rackets) should not have an un-regulated ability to place a stranglehold on an industry.
Jul 07, 2006, 11:09 PM
..teach monkeys to fly..
Marten's Avatar
Industry (and other protection rackets) should not have an un-regulated ability to place a stranglehold on unions.

Jul 08, 2006, 03:49 AM
Mister UHU's Avatar
I must have an inaccurate view of Aus, because I thought it had strong unions
and fair labour practices.

Recently an Australian company called Multiplex (not connected to the models)
has made a real mess of a big stadium project in UK.
They resorted to trying to sue one of their suppliers to cut their loses,
but it was their fault if they chose the wrong supplier in the first place.

Good managers don't get strikes, their staff contribute extra sometimes.

In the end every problem and every issue is the responsibility of management.
Jul 08, 2006, 06:43 AM
Love & a Molotov cocktail
Punkie's Avatar
Personal experiance through working within the Transport and general workers union, both as a member and a rep, have shown in most cases strikes are caused by bad management. Its not allways the case though, but some managers are very good at provoking action from the workforce.
As Sarge said Every worker should have the right to withdraw labour, and equally the management should have the right to terminate the employment of workers who break their contracts, but both of these rights come with obligations, the workers should make sure they have tried every path to try and settle without taking industrial action, and this is where good union organisation can help both by giving a united front for the workers to talk to the management and also (and this happens more often than most people realise) by advising the workers that they have gained or held onto as much as they can and if they take further action they stand to lose more than they gain. The management should also do what they can to prevent disputes, one thing that helps is good communication and honesty in negotiation, it doesn't help trust if management say there is no money for a rise this year, and after the workers have accepted a lower than inflationary deal the company reveal record profits.
Any law that prevents the withdrawl of labour is an attack on basic freedom.

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