Friday, June 06, 2008

CFMEU official faces jail for serving members



Noel Washington has been in the Australian construction industry all his life…first as a construction worker, then as a building union official. Noel wears his Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) jacket with pride and is the Senior Vice President of his union in Victoria. In his time he’s seen the ups and downs of a tough game. As he says, “We’re no angels but we’re not terrorists or drug-runners either.” Yet is seems that is how he is to be treated.

He points to an industry where the employers play for keeps. Like the firm in Melbourne where he went to a lunchtime meeting off site just before the Federal election, a firm which had ruthlessly enforced Howard’s laws against the union and sacked its shop stewards in a recent downturn. Restrictions on union right of entry meant that the union meeting could not be held on site or during working time…so the CFMEU put on a BBQ lunch in a nearby park.

Little did Noel know that when he attended that meeting of more than 500 members that he would be called in by the Federal government’s Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) to inform on those who spoke at the meeting; to tell them what was said, to name who said it and to undergo hours of interrogation. Or that if he told anybody about the interview (which he did not attend), even his wife, he could be jailed.

Noel Washington now faces 6 months jail for refusing to obey written directions to attend an interview to “dob in his mates.” To the ABCC this is a crime. One of the few areas of the recent Federal budget which was not cut was the ABCC, which received $33 million to continue its work of intimidating construction workers on behalf of the construction bosses. The new “Labor” government recently announced an enquiry into how the work can be taken over by Fair Work Australia after 2010. The Australian Labor Party policy calls for its abolition.

Despite the capacity of Federal Minister Julia Gillard to intervene on how the ABCC’s powers are used, Noel’s prosecution is going ahead. His case has been referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Repressive Laws

Repeated decisions of the ILO condemn the laws empowering the ABCC, yet they continue because the Minister promised employers she would maintain them. Prosecutions and charges in the building industry have increased by 60% under the ABCC, and 85 workers have been questioned under its powers. The ABCC was created by the Howard government following the Cole Royal Commission which spent $66 million investigating the industry, only to fail to find one case to prosecute.

Building unions recently met in Brisbane to unite to give full support to the campaign against the ABCC and to support any worker victimised by it. Noel is likely to be the first. Building unions are preparing a TV ad campaign to bring the issues to the public.

These laws threaten all legitimate union activity and the ALP should repeal them. The building unions ask supportive union members to email Federal politicians and to join rallies, sign petitions etc as they come around. Watch this space…union and community support for the rights of the Maritime Union of Australia was decisive. We may well need to rally again for the rights of building and construction workers, and for Noel Washington in particular.

Send your views to your local ALP member and to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Minister Gillard, demanding that they drop the charges against Noel Washington and disband the gang of thugs known as the ABCC:;

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