Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Building Commission Drops Eureka Flag Ban

Eureka Flag Flies in Sydney
The building watchdog has quietly dropped probes into two companies for displaying construction union flags and posters on building sites, despite subsequently warning the industry that employers ­faced bans if employees showed the Eureka flag image.

The Australian understands the Australian Building and Construction Commission has backed off recommending sanctions against Probuild and Watpac for displaying posters and flags of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union on building sites.

The ABCC initially wrote to the companies last year asking them to respond to allegations that could have resulted in their being banned from tendering for commonwealth building work if they were found to have breached the national building code.

Sources said no reasons were given for the decision and the letters were received before the ABCC released new guidance on January 30 warning employers against employees displaying the Eureka flag or union slogans on company-supplied clothing and equipment, including hard hats and mobile phones.

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union has accused Kane Constructions of undermining the constitution and freedom of association after the company told site managers on Tuesday to remove all union-related flags from its building sites.

The builder's action follows the Australian Building and Construction Commission releasing updated guidelines on the building code last month that specifically ban "the iconic symbol of the five white stars and white cross on the Eureka Stockade flag" from display on employer property due to its association with the CFMEU.

In a letter to Kane Constructions, CFMEU state secretary John Setka demanded the company confirm by noon that it would not proceed with removing the flags.

  • "We will take any action required to maintain our members' right to freedom of association," he said.
  • "We request that Kane refrain from any conduct that undermines this and will not hesitate to enforce our rights through the relevant legal channels."

Victorian building sites are understood to feature the union's John Cummins Memorial Fund flag, which includes the Eureka flag in the background.

The ABCC has said its ban on union insignia on clothing, property or equipment is in line with the code and freedom of association "because such practices can result in an implication that membership of a building association is a mandatory requirement of employment".

However, the CFMEU has objected to the watchdog's interpretation and argued that such conduct would be a breach of the code.

  • "In fact the forced removal of an individual's right to wear union logos or to display a union flag is a blatant attack on freedom of association," Mr Setka said in the letter.
  • "It implies one cannot join a union."

CFMEU national construction division secretary Dave Noonan said the union was told the agency had been threatening contractors throughout the industry for some time with blacklisting over displaying union stickers and posters.
  • “The real point here is you have an industry with an unacceptable safety record, an unacceptable rate of fatalities, the exploitation of migrant workers, wage theft going on and all these guys can do is try and ban the Eureka flag,’’ he said.
  • “It says they are not interested in a more productive, safe or ­efficient building industry. They are interested in right-wing ideology and culture wars.”

Opposition workplace relations spokesman Brendan O’Connor said if the government, “which purports to be full of freedom-of- speech warriors, is banning union members from displaying union symbols or the Eureka flag, then we are in dangerous territory”.

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