||Issue No. 211||05 March 2004|
Interview: Baby Bust
Safety: Dust To Dust
Bad Boss: Shaming in Print
National Focus: Work's Cripplin' Us
International: Bulk Bullies
History: The Battle for Kelly's Bush
Economics: Aid, Trade And Oil
Review: The Art Of Work
Poetry: Sew His Lips Together
Saving The Planet
Taskforce "Disgraced" in Court
Union secretary, Andrew Ferguson, said the Taskforce, headed by controversial former federal police officer Nigel Hadgkiss, had been "disgraced" by criticisms leveled by Judge Hughes in the NSW District Court.
The judge found there had been an "element of provocation" by the Taskforce in events at Sutherland Hospital during October, 2002, and was highly critical of one of its inspectors, Greg Alfred, who gave sworn evidence, then changed his testimony after being contradicted by a company witness.
The judge said he hadn't seen anything like Alfred's performance in his six years on the bench.
Further, Judge Hughes said, if the Workplace Relations Act had allowed it he would have awarded costs in favour of CFMEU organiser, Joe Brcic, who had been personally targeted by the prosecution.
In October, 2002, the Taskforce set up by recommendation of Building Industry Royal CommissionerTerence Cole, rushed five inspectors to Sutherland Hospital after workers went home because water had been cut off to the site.
The Court heard evidence that the head contractor had agreed, at the time, it had been a legitimate health and safety issue. However, evidence suggested, as a result of Taskforce pressure the company changed its stance and refused to pay workers who, angered, had then struck over enterprise bargaining claims.
Judge Hughes found the CFMEU had failed to give proper notice of that action, under requirements of the Workplace Relations Act, and fined the union $2000. He dismissed the other 35 counts.
The omnibus nature of these Taskforce actions has become a problem for building industry unions who say the Federal Government-appointed Taskforce is trying to ruin them by throwing hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars into "dubious" prosecutions.
In the Sutherland Hospital case, for example, CFMEU industrial officer, Sean Marshall, conceded before the Industrial Relations Commission 16 months ago that it had committed a technical breach of the law.
"It was the only one of 36 charges that was upheld and we conceded it more than a year ago," Marshall told Workers Online. "Joe Brcic is one of our youngest organisers and he made an honest administrative mistake.
"But they spent maybe $60,000 taxpayer dollars on pursuing 35 charges that have been thrown out. We have limitations on our resources but they don't seem to have any."
Legal sources suggest running these defences, alone, might have cost the union $30,000.
They point out that the nature of the Workplace Relations Act allows one event to to be translated into dozens of counts, each carrying hefty penalties. In this instance, for example, the stoppage at Sutherland Hospital on October 14, 2002, affected the head contractor and 15 sub-contractors.
As a result, the Taskforce, laid 16 counts, each carrying the potential for a $10,000 penalty. It had originally racked up 49 charges out of the Sutherland Hospital dispute, leaving the CFMEU facing the possibility of $490,000 in fines.
Ferguson said the dismissal of all charges against Brcic would give building workers confidence union organisers could still fight for their rights, despite hurdles placed in their way by the Coalition Government and its Taskforce.
Meanwhile, ALP leader Mark Latham slammed the Cole Royal Commission and the Building Industry Taskforce during a question and answer session with rank and file building workers in Sydney, last Friday.
"How can the Federal Government spend tens of millions of dollars on a vindictive campaign against working people when there aren't enough bulk
billing doctors?" Latham said to the meeting of CFMEU Delegates.
The Federal opposition leader said a Labor government would abolish AWAs and strengthen the Industrial Relations Commission. He also "fully supported" the CFMEU's campaign for industrial manslaughter legislation.
Latham told delegates of his long-standing relationship with CFMEU assistant secretary, Brian "Sparkles" Parker, recalling the days when they collected glasses together as workmates at the Green Valley Hotel.
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