||Issue No. 136||17 May 2002|
Interview: Licking the Wounds
Industrial: The Accidental Tourist
Unions: Stars And Stripes
International: The Un-Promised Land
History: Mate Against Mate
Politics: Reith's Gong
Poetry: You've Got a Friend
Review: War on Terror: Now Showing
Satire: Burmese Regime Makes Genuine Commitment To Pretence Of Change
The Locker Room
Week in Review
More May Day Hate Mail
What Women Want
Chucking a Wobbly
Is Caustic Costello the Despot of Despair?
East Timor: Independent Or Mendicant?
The Accidental Tourist
By Jim Marr
But that's where Lui, 24, and a dozen other backpackers have found themselves, defending the frontline against the tide of shonky operators threatening to sink Sydney's legitimate construction industry.
Lui and his comrades, from a hostel on the other side of Elizabeth Bay Rd, make an odd bunch of activists.
The 13 young travellers - 10 from the UK, two Canadians and a Kiwi - stand amidst CFMEU banners and flags. Most choose to wear THAT t-shirt, the one with the python's head emblazoned above the legend, We Strike When Provoked.
And there's not much doubt, they have been sorely provoked.
Lui, who worked in a Runcorn pharmaceutical lab while completing varsity studies in Manchester, finds it hard to believe he's on the bricks, fighting over wages and conditions on the other side of the world.
"We don't really have union backgrounds," he explained. "Back home, they were all beaten when I was a little kid.
"I suppose I was curious but being exposed to this has made me think even more. It's become a big topic of conversation back at the hostel."
Lui and his mates answered an ad posted on the hostel wall for workers to demolish the old Gazebo Hotel. For five weeks they tore out wall units, ripped up carpets and dismantled air-conditioning systems without realising they were being paid half the going rate and, more importantly, were doing it without Workers Compensation cover, or the most basic safety provisions.
They were only informed of their rights when CFMEU organisers came calling and didn't take much convincing to call on their employer, Australian Development Corporation Pty Ltd, to put things right.
They want back pay, basic safety courses and protective equipment, not to mention drinking water sourced from somewhere other than the toilet.
Since they put these demands on Elizabeth St-based, Australian Development Corporation, nine days ago the site has been closed. Yesterday, the company's only visible representative, David Bradley, was not answering his phone or responding to messages.
Just to add to the multi-national feel of the picket the action is being co-ordinated by two of the CFMEU's Maori organisers, Lincoln Fryer and Steve Keenan.
Fryer puts safety at the top of a lengthy list of union concerns.
He counts off breaches of safety regulations on a job in one of the country's most dangerous industries - no occupational health and safety survey to check for asbestos, lead, synthetic mineral fibres or the like; no green card course; no personal protective equipment - masks, workboots, gloves etc; no amenities; no Workers Comp payments. He's only getting started.
Since the union intervened, statutory authorities have swung into gear.
Keenan reaches into his car and pulls out a sheaf of WorkCover documents that have been served in the past seven days - prohibition notices, improvement notices and notifications of four separate health and safety fines.
It's instructive stuff, especially for the likes of Tony Abbott who wants CFMEU officials barred from non-union sites and Terrence Cole whose Building Industry Royal Commission only this month dismissed union claims of immigration rorts.
Picketing workers say they have seen no sign of the Royal Commissioner despite suggestions he should get out of his courtroom and see the reality of the industry for himself.
Wearing the trainers that have seen him through five weeks on the partly-demolished building, Lui, says if union reps hadn't turned up, his crew would have worked on none-the-wiser.
"This has been a real eye-opener," he admits. "When you come to a country on holiday you don't expect to end up in the middle of something like this.
"We just needed money to pay our bills and thought everything was legit. We didn't think about all the other issues, I guess we were a bit naieve."
He says the union information, especially on safety, was a "real eye-opener".
"Financially, I'm struggling. I suppose it's going to be a matter of cutting down on the things I want to do because I want to see this out."
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