Please send a message of support to 107 members of the Australian union, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) who are facing huge fines or gaol terms for going on strike. Their email contact is firstname.lastname@example.org
The 107 workers, who are employed on the Mandurah to Perth Rail line are facing fines of up to $22,000 each (£8900), simply for taking industrial action last February. This move opens a new era on industrial relations in Australia, after the new building industry watchdog, an Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), lodged writs in the federal court. The court action is one of the first uses of the savage Industrial Relations legislation recently introduced by John Howard's government, and which saw hundreds of thousands of Australian trade unions take to the streets last year.
Tory prime minister, John Howard, is the most junior partner in the Bush, Blair, Howard alliance who invaded Iraq, and there is clearly a flow of ideas between the three governments. But Australia is also a major regional power, and an important economy in its own right.
The original industrial action was to get their union delegate, Peter Ballard, his job back. Ballard was sacked for seeking to enforce already agreed health and safety conditions. Eighty-two of the 107 face additional fines of $6600(£2700) each.
The charges were made on June 5, follow months of harassment and intimidation of workers involved in the dispute, including interrogations by the ABCC. 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.
According to a report in the newspaper, The West Australian, 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 to defend trade union organisation in the construction industry, after some contracts were awarded to a non-unionised firm. Work on the project had also been subject to imaginative unofficial action, so-called "blue-flu" days, where several workers take sick leave at the same time.
Make no mistake, if John Howard's government gets away with criminalising basic trade union activity, then that message will be picked up loud and clear by New Labour here in the UK.