Thursday, March 09, 2017

Building Workers Rally to Protect Jobs…and Challenge Turnbull

Several thousand building workers walked off the job in Sydney on Thursday in defiance of the Turnbull Coalition Government’s anti-union laws, joining supporters from many other unions in a protest at the Prime Minister’s Sydney office in Farrer Place. The Sydney was part of a national campaign against the Australian Building and Construction Commission legislation.

In Melbourne up to 15,000 building workers rallied, stopping to city as they added their voices to the national protest. 

The Sydney rally was addressed by Ged Kearney, President of the ACTU, along with CFMEU National Secretary Michael O’Çonnor and Assistant National Secretary Dave Noonan , Unions NSW secretary Mark Morey, Tim Ayres, NSW Secretary of the AMWU, Judith Keidja from the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association, Natalie Lang from the United Services Union, Gerard Hayes of the HSU NSW and others.

Union delegations at the rally included the NSW Teachers Federation, the MUA, NTEU, Plumbers union, Public Service Association and many more.

The speakers were united in calling for the removal of the Turnbull Government, the repeal of anti-union laws and the maintenance of penalty rates. CFMEU National Secretary Michael O’Çonnor was clear that this was only the beginning of the campaign for workers rights, and NSW Branch CFMEU Secretary Brian Parker made it clear that workers would be back protesting again and again, with increased numbers.

At the end of the rally members spontaneously marched up Pitt Street into Castlereagh Street to Town Hall Square, bringing lunch time traffic to a stand-still. There were no attempts by police to stop the march.

Building workers walked off the job despite the ABCC laws passed late last year that returned many of the punitive powers to the Australian Building and Construction Commission. For the Turnbull Government a large action such as this is both a challenge and a threat.

Prosecution of many thousands of building workers who live in suburbs across Sydney might aim to intimidate, but would also provide the same number of people telling their messages to the community of a government that harasses them for taking part in peaceful protest to safeguard their living standards.

More likely the ABCC will move to fine unions large amounts, but in a climate of wide concern for people’s pay and conditions this too may not win the Government any support.

The big question is whether the union movement should consider another campaign such as “Your rights at work”, which contributed to the election of the Labor Government in 2007? 

Certainly many union members would be keen to be part of such a campaign, but those same members will be looking for a better result from Labor this time rather than the Workchoices light system we have now.

To all intents and purposes the Fair Work Act makes industrial action in defence of jobs outside enterprise bargaining periods illegal, and a system that allows the Fair Work Commission to reduce the pay of the poorest workers with their recent decision to cut penalty rates is simply unacceptable.

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