650 workers at the Queensland Children's Hospital construction site have been on a community protest, stopping work at the site, since 6 August.
The workers' main spokesperson is Bob Carnegie [below], a former Builders Labourers Federation [BLF] organiser invited in by the workers after courts handed down injunctions banning all union officials from the site.
Please send messages of support to email@example.com.
In Brisbane: If your organisation or yourself could organise the purchase of Woolies or Coles/Coles Express vouchers. it would be of immense help. They can be handed to Bob Carnegie or Virginia Clarke from 05:30 at the protest line at South Brisbane or posted to PO Box 738, Stones Corner Q 4120.
Workers' Liberty leaflet put out from QCH mass meeting 24 September
QCH workers need your support
QCH is a test case
650 workers at the Queensland Children's Hospital site in South Brisbane have been in dispute and on a community protest since 6 August.
Construction disputes do not usually go on this long. The bosses face heavy financial penalties. The workers, in an insecure industry, lack savings to cover long periods without wages. Usually disputes are settled, one way or another, in a few days.
Abigroup, the main contractor at QCH, is losing $300,000 a day; but has decided to make this a test case.
The workers are fighting for a principle
The workers want a union Enterprise Bargaining Agreement with a clause ensuring all employees of subcontractors get the rate for the job.
The workers want an industry where workers get the respect due to the people who build the structures all the rest of us live in and work in. They want an industry where workers are paid the rate for the job and get decent conditions, and where valuable projects like the QCH are completed on time, to a good standard, and safely.
Abigroup wants an industry where workers scramble to compete with each other for insecure, ill-organised work at whatever rate they can get.
Abigroup uses unfair law
Abigroup is owned by the giant Lend Lease corporation, which reported $500 million profits for the year to 30 June 2012. Its chief executive Steve McCann was paid $7.33 million for the 2012 financial year, a 66% pay rise. Lend Lease has recently had to sideline four top Abigroup executives for financial misreporting.
Lend Lease could afford to settle the dispute just by lopping a bit off Steve McCann's pay.
Instead it has pushed Fair Work Australia to order the workers back to work and ban all strikes at the site. It has got court orders to ban union officials from the site, and also to ban community protest organiser Bob Carnegie, not a union official. Bob is defying the ban. Now court orders are threatened against other workers.
Workers are not slaves or serfs
Law which denies the right to withdraw labour, or the right to show solidarity with other workers, or the right to peaceful protest, is unjust law.
Even other capitalist states would recognise the workers' rights. In France the constitution establishes the right to strike as an individual right for every worker. France has, by most measures, the world's highest labour productivity.
It takes defiance to replace unjust laws by just laws.
QCH workers need support
The QCH workers have had support from workers and labour activists across Australia and across the world - England, Turkey, Iran, France. On 24 Septembers workers and students in London are protesting at the Lend Lease office there to show solidarity.
Now the QCH workers need more than messages. They need action by other workers who, by taking action, can put pressure on Lend Lease and on the employing class.
The QCH workers' fight is the fight of every worker facing contracting-out, unfair wages, or insecure conditions - which means, every worker.
What to do?
Join the community protest at the Graham Street entrance to the site any weekday morning from 5.30. Please send donations in the form Coles and Woolworths $50 gift cards which are redeemable for groceries or fuel. Please post to PO Box 738, Stones Corner 4120. Invite workers from the community protest to visit your workplace or union meeting to explain the dispute and discuss what you can do. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
QCH community protest supporter
Alliance for Workers’ Liberty
Leaflet put out by the QCH workers
Why is there a community protest at the Queensland Children's Hospital site?
Workers are demanding a union enterprise bargaining agreement with the main contractor, Abigroup, and a clause to ensure that all workers employed by subcontractors on the site are paid the rate for the job. Almost all the workers on the site are employed by subcontractors rather than Abigroup, and rates for similar jobs with different subcontractors can vary by up to $10 an hour.
How did the dispute start?
It started when a gyprocking subcontractor failed, leaving the workers employed by it in the lurch. Trade unionists had been complaining on this point for months. The November 2011 "Construction Journal", produced by the CFMEU union's construction division, reported: "Contractors are cutting each other's throats to win [work at] the Abigroup site at the Queensland Children's Hospital... They are using tricks to reduce their price... Some of these plasterboard companies are taking it one step further, using multiple subsidiary companies under their banner in order to divide up the workers' entitlements..."
Why are the workers' demands important?
Winning decent pay and conditions on construction sites is difficult, because jobs come and go. The same battle has to be fought again on every new job.
When union organisation is weak or broken in construction, then even on big sites workers are employed by lots of different subcontractors, or by labour-hire companies, with no security if the company fails. Similar work is paid different wages. Workers are taken on as "self-employed" so that the subcontractors can avoid their responsibilities for sick pay, superannuation, etc. Fly-by-night subcontractors go for quick profits and take no responsibility for the finished job.
The workers want the new hospital to be built to good standards and on time. They also want to hold the line for decent negotiated standards in the construction industry.
How has Abigroup responded?
Abigroup is owned by the giant Lend Lease corporation, which reported $500 million profits for the year to 30 June 2012. Its chief executive Steve McCann was paid $7.33 million for the 2012 financial year, a 66% pay rise. It has also recently had to sideline four top executives for financial misreporting.
The dispute started on 6 August. Abigroup says it is losing $300,000 a day. Until 4 September Abigroup refused to talk or try to find an agreement to enable work to resume. It looks like Abigroup underestimated the workers and thought the dispute would quickly collapse. Now Abigroup has at least started talking. The workers want talks and a speedy agreement.
Aren't the workers breaking the law?
Injunctions have been served against officials of the CFMEU, the BLF, the ETU, and the Plumbers' Union to stay away from the site. The workers are therefore continuing their dispute as a community protest. Injunctions have been threatened against protest organisers. The great majority of the workers have no legal proceedings against them, and are not likely to have. The dispute will continue, whatever the legal proceedings, until Abigroup settles.
Australian law is exceptionally reluctant to recognise workers' rights to withdraw their labour. By contrast, France's constitution, for example, has the right to strike written into it as an individual right for every worker. France has, by most measures, the world's highest labour productivity.
Workers are not slaves or serfs. The right to withdraw your labour when conditions become unacceptable is a basic right.
Aren't the workers being violent?
No. The community protest is peaceful. Strike-breakers are turned away by persuasion, not by violence.
How can we find out more, or support the workers?
The community protest is held every weekday morning from 5.30am at the Graham Street entrance to the site. The workers welcome support and visitors.
Because of the legal proceedings, the unions are not organising financial appeals for the workers. However, the workers have had no wages for over a month. They and their families need to eat. Please visit the community protest and find out how you can make donations.
The workers welcome messages of support which show other workers are with them in in the long battle for a world where the working class controls economic life, and where workers enjoy the right to a secure livelihood, worthwhile work, decent conditions, and good social provision - rather than labouring for the profit of a wealthy few. Send messages to email@example.com.