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Defend the Right to Strike!URGENT ACTION NEEDED: Please send urgent messages of solidarity to the Construction, Forestry, Mining & Energy Union of Western Australia email@example.com and join the August 29 solidarity rallies (details here).
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Support the WA construction workers! Defend our right to strike!One hundred and seven construction workers on the Mandurah to Perth rail line are facing fines of $22,000 each, simply for taking industrial action last February. Their industrial action was to get their union delegate, Peter Ballard, his job back. Ballard was sacked for daring to insist that previously agreed health and safety conditions were enforced. Eighty-two of the 107 face additional fines of $6600 each for violating an Australian Building and Construction Commission ban on industrial action on the rail line. This is more proof that John Howard and his government are hell bent on eradicating workers' rights, and destroying trade unions' ability to defend and extend those rights. These charges, laid on June 5, follow months of harassment and intimidation of workers involved in the dispute, including interrogations by the ABCC, which under Howard's new laws, are as secret as anti-terrorism trials. The remaining 296 workers who stopped work in February still face the prospect of being charged. Since its formation last year, the ABCC has been targeting workers and unions who have taken industrial action over occupational health and safety concerns, in particular, including life-threatening workplace issues. The Socialist Alliance stands 100% in solidarity with the WA construction workers and their strike action, and with the CFMEU's fight to defend its members and defeat the government's anti-union laws. The only means working people have to protect ourselves against corporations' constant drive for greater profits is to stand together and take collective action in our own defence. The right to strike is our ultimate defence against ever-lower wages, longer working hours, and more deaths and injuries on the job.
That fundamental right is now being exercised by the 18 crew onboard the Stolt Australia, docked in Hobart. The seafarers’ decision to take industrial action to protect their jobs and working conditions against the shipping bosses’ efforts to substantially reduce wages and conditions by employing non-Australian crews is completely justified. Yet, under Howard’s IR regime, these workers are likely to be charged, fined - and possibly jailed - for their action.Howard and his corporate mates are trying to abolish the right to strike altogether, passing laws that impose huge fines and jail terms on workers and unions who take any sort of industrial action, no matter what the reason. They aim to intimidate union members, bankrupt and split unions, and destroy all workplace collectivity. They must be stopped before it is too late. Bad laws were meant to be broken. If the Howard government gets away with this assault on the WA construction workers, no worker in Australia will be secure. And if the trade union movement as a whole does not fight it, including with industrial action when necessary, no union will survive. The Socialist Alliance calls on all those in the community who support working people's fundamental right to decent wages and working conditions to speak out against this unprecedented assault on workers' democratic rights, and to take action in solidarity with any worker and trade union, in any state or territory, that comes under attack.
July 7, 2006
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"The Trades Union International of Workers in the Building, Wood, Building Materials and Allied Industries (UITBB) Secretariat, representing millions of construction workers around the globe, firmly condemns the outrageous decision by the Howard Government to personally prosecute 107 building workers and fine them up to $28,000 for taking industrial action after a delegate was sacked. Such persecution of workers and their legitimate representatives finds its equal only in the darkest periods of human history and reminds of the worst practices taken by governments against workers."
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Lock me up: I won't pay fine for striking
By Paige Taylor
The Australian, 08 July, 2006FATHER of four John Pes says he will go to jail rather than pay a fine of up to $28,600 for striking. "There's no way my kids are going to be living on Vegemite sandwiches while I pay a fine to the Government for sticking up for a principle," Mr Pes said. He is among 107 men and women served writs by the Australian Building and Construction Commission for defying a total ban imposed by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission on a West Australian project. The workers, building a railway from Perth to the coastal town of Mandurah 100km to the south, also ignored a union directive to return to work when they walked off the job for 12 days in March. While other workers have told The Weekend Australian they received writs from the ABCC late on Monday night, Mr Pes is still waiting nervously for his. According to Federal Court documents listing him as a respondent among 106 others, the knock on the door is imminent. "I won't be paying the fine and I'm prepared to do a jail term," he said. "People might say we deserve it because we knew the risks, but this sort of thing is just the thin edge of the wedge." West Australia's main employer group, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the public should ignore union efforts to create sympathy for the workers, who face fines up to $28,000. "The union made this bed, in which court prosecution quite probably awaits, and its offending members now have to lie in it," chamber chief executive John Langoulant said. More than 400 workers employed by Leighton Kumagai went on strike, halting construction of the largest public transport project in Western Australia. Its progress has been disrupted by disputes and it is believed to be five months behind schedule. The strike in March was over the sacking of the workers' shop steward, Peter Ballard, on February 24. He was known as The Pope for securing heavenly working conditions. Mr Pes said the workers wanted to strike because they felt that Mr Ballard, who claimed unfair dismissal and won a confidential settlement, was laid off for complaining about poor health and safety conditions. "It's the principle," he said. "If you don't stand up for your conditions, you lose them." Mr Pes quit his job not long after the strike when his friend was sacked. "He was a bloody good worker, he was always efficient, he was always doing the right thing," he said
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Rail workers sued for millions over strike
The West Australian, 6 July 2006More than 100 workers on the Perth to Mandurah rail line face fines of up to $28,000 each for striking after being hit with unprecedented legal action last night by the new building industry watchdog. In a move which opens a new era in industrial relations, the Australian Building and Construction Commission lodged writs in the Federal Court against 107 of the 403 workers who walked off the job in late February. All stand to be fined up to $22,000 each after the ABCC used tough new laws against individual employees for the first time in Australia. But 82 face further penalties of up to $6600 each for breaching the total strike ban on the project imposed by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. Most of the remaining strikers, who are still under investigation, are expected to face similar penalties. The legal action stems from the workers' 12-day strike, which contractor Leighton Kumagai said cost it $200,000 a day. The Mandurah railway has at times been paralysed by industrial action, which is partly to blame for the project now running five months behind schedule and forms part of the $200 million in cost overrun claims from Leighton Kumagai against the State Government. Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union secretary Kevin Reynolds warned in June last year that the project would be targeted by unions because some contracts had been awarded to a non-unionised firm. The project has also been hit by "blue-flu", the name given to periods when workers take mass sickies. ABCC Commissioner John Lloyd said it had been one of the most troubled industrial sites in Australia. Mr Lloyd said the writs were an example to other workers in the industry that the watchdog was serious about implementing tough new ~laws. "I think people should take notice that we are serious about promoting respect to the rule of law ... and that we will follow that through," he said. A letter sent to workers by the ABCC yesterday recommends they seek legal advice and hints that those who co-operate with the watchdog may get a reduced penalty. "The ABCC would prefer to have these matters resolved without undue cost or hardship for all concerned. For workers who admit the contraventions, the ABCC is willing to assist with an early resolution of these issues," said the letter, signed by deputy commissioner Nigel Hadgkiss. The workers walked off the job in protest at the sacking of union shop steward Peter Ballard, who was nicknamed "the Pope" for helping city section workers to secure "heavenly conditions". Mr Reynolds said the action was part of the Federal Government's "hellbent" bid to destroy unions. "I thought it was so wrong."
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