||Issue No. 299||17 March 2006|
For Queen and Country
Interview: Organising In Cyberspace
Industrial: How Low Is Low
Industrial: Cloak and Dagger
Unions: Bad Medicine
History: Right Turn, Clyde
Economics: Long Division
International: Union Proud
Politics: Howard’s Sick Joke
Indigenous: The year of living dangerously
Review: Lights, Camera, Strike!
Culture: News Front
The Locker Room
Fleas Bite Back
Corporate law firm, Freehills, has been contracted to track down blue collar workers who objected to “fleapit” conditions and prosecute them in court.
Workplace Relations Minister, Kevin Andrews, has endorsed the campaign to secure up to $1.5 million in fines against AMWU members who struck to improve Outback living conditions.
A spokesman for the Minister endorsed the prosecutions and promised similar actions "would be pursued across the country".
The cases, alleging breaches of the federal Workplace Relations Act, stem from action by around 70 people, last year, over inhabitable living conditions at Moranbah, central Queensland.
AMWU members stopped work for three days but returned, after securing improvements, to complete maintenance on a dragline for a nearby coal mine.
Maryborough father of two, Charles Palazzi, told Brisbane's Courier Mail of the situation that confronted him and his colleagues when they arrived.
"There were feral cats everywhere, some of the boys had fleas in their rooms and all you could smell was sewage," he said.
"The standards we were living in out there - prisoners and illegal immigrants, they don't get those standards. If you can't stand up and say 'this is no good' whithout being fined, what is going on?"
Mr Palazzi said he had a wife, two young children and a mortgage, and the fine being sought by the federal government would cripple his family.
AMWU state secretary, Andrew Dettmer, says the prosecutions are political.
They are not being pursued by the Gladstone-based contractor that employed the maintenance crew, Eagles Engineering.
"This is John Howard's war on workers gone mad," Dettmer said. "Now he is telling Australians that if they refuse to live in vermin-infested accommodation, they will be pursued and taken to court.
"The place was fleapit."
Dettmer said it would be a classic David-Goliath confrontation because most members couldn't afford a lawyer, much less Melbourne's dearest.
In the federal court, last week, government lawyers were given more time to track down people who had tried to improve their living conditions.
It followed the issue of 30-page subpoenas on about a dozen Moranbah survivors, an AMWU organiser and the union.
It is understood the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations is seeking fines of up to $18,000 against individuals and $100,000 against their union, if prosecutions are successful.
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