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BFCSA: ABCC targets individual manufacturing workers over ACTU rallies

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ABCC targets individual manufacturing workers over ACTU rallies

The Australian 12:00am January 19, 2019

Ewin Hannan

 

EXCLUSIVE  The Australian Building and Construction Commission has widened its controversial probe into ACTU anti-Coalition rallies to pursue individual manufacturing workers who now face prosecution and fines for joining last year’s political protests.

Documents obtained by The Weekend Australian reveal the ABCC wrote to employees of steel manufacturer Liberty OneSteel this week, seeking to interview them for allegedly breaking the law by joining the ACTU “mega-rally” in Melbourne without their employer’s permission.

Union leaders accused the ABCC of acting beyond its powers by pursuing workers outside the construction industry but the agency is relying on little-­publicised provisions of the ABCC legislation, which give a broad definition of building work, to ­justify pursuing manufacturing workers.

Documents show the ABCC has also written to construction workers in South Australia, seeking to interview them after they walked off the Sky City Construction project to join the Adelaide leg of the ACTU rally.

The ABCC in investigating the workers for allegedly taking unlawful industrial action by stopping work and walking off the casino site without obtaining the written permission of their employer, Hansen Yuncken.

The agency used special powers to force employers to hand over the private addresses of the workers.

Under the ABCC legislation, an individual worker can be penalised up to $42,000 for unlawful industrial action, more than three times the maximum penalty under the Fair Work Act.

Last October the Federal Court imposed penalties totalling $105,000 against 75 workers after they took part in ­unlawful industrial action at the New Children’s Hospital project in Perth.

The workers were penalised $1400 each after they withdrew their labour soon after work was scheduled to start on the project in February 2013.

Commissioner Stephen McBurney said the ABCC was about to take action against the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union in the Northern Territory, meaning the agency would have the union in court as a respondent in every state and territory.

Ahead of this year’s federal election, unions are seizing on the ABCC’s pursuit of individual workers to intensify calls for its abolition, while the government and employers attack Bill Shorten’s promise to scrap the agency as evidence Labor is captive to the influential left-wing union.

The CFMEU’s mining division this week secured what it called a “spectacular victory” for striking labour-hire workers at the Wollongong Coal-owned Wongawilli Colliery, winning increased wages and better conditions in a move that will embolden the union movement in the election lead-up.

The CFMEU’s maritime division also launched industrial ­action at Hutchison Ports over a company plan to reduce wages at its Sydney and Brisbane operations, where wharfies earn up to $150,000 a year for a 33-hour week.

ACTU secretary Sally McManus accused the ABCC of acting like “secret police”, claiming it was using heavy-handed tactics to try to get workers to discuss their roles in peaceful political protests.

“It’s doubly concerning that (letters) have now been issued to people who don’t even work in the industry,’’ Ms McManus told The Weekend Australian.

“Where does it stop? Are 910,000 manufacturing workers now subject to this secretive, powerful and draconian body, in addition to a million construction workers?”

The ABCC is justifying its pursuit of manufacturing workers by relying on the wide definition of building work in the ABCC ­legislation.

It defines building work as ­including the off-site prefabrication of building components and the transporting or supplying of goods to building sites.

Mr McBurney said it was ­appropriate for the ABCC to write to the workers asking them to ­explain why they had failed to ­attend work.

 

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