Defiant construction workers fined for defending union flag
Written by: Danny O. on 31 January 2021
Sixty-four Brisbane construction workers have been hit with personal fines of $1,750 each by the Federal Circuit Court after they took strike action in defence of flying CFMEU union flags on site.
The federal government’s anti-union attack dog, the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) took the 64 workers to court for “illegal” industrial action following a one-day walkout on 11 September 2018. The workers on a luxury apartment project in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley, reportedly walked off the job in protest against the removal of union flags by Japanese-owned builder Icon.
In his decision to fine the workers, Judge Michael Jarrett noted about the strike that “Whilst it is objectively serious, it falls at the lower end of the scale,” and that financial loss was minimal. The $1,750 fines are a fraction of the maximum $42,000 penalty that the workers could have been hit with.
However, the construction workers remained defiant, with the judge remarking, “There has not … been any express statement of remorse or contrition by any of the respondents. The respondents have not apologised for their unlawful conduct.” And nor should they!
The timing of the fines comes as the construction industry awaits the decision of the ongoing case between building giant Lendlease and the ABCC over clauses in the Building Code in relation to the legality of displaying union insignia, posters and flags on building sites. (*) If the courts were to rule in the ABCC’s favour in that case, the walkout displayed by this group of workers is the kind of action that would need to be replicated en masse on building sites across the country to defend the union’s presence on site.
The case of the 64 workers is also noteworthy for the unusual fact that the ABCC only pursued the individual striking workers and did not attempt to prosecute the union or its officials, despite two officials being on site when the walkout took place. It’s not the first time the courts have issued individual construction workers with fines, but it may be the first time that only the workers have been fined. However, the ABCC is also pursuing 53 steel fixers who attended the ACTU’s ‘Change the Rules’ rally in April 2019, though the court is yet to make any decision in that case.
The 64 fined workers should be congratulated for their actions and willingness to stand defiant in defence of their rights and their union. It will take many more like them to see the back of the ABCC and tear up this country’s anti-worker laws.
(*) Further reading: ABCC and Lendlease in court battle of Eureka flag ban
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