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Issue #1814      March 14, 2018


From pit to port

On June 20, 2017 the Construction Forestry Mining Union (CFMEU), the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and the Textile Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia (TCFUA) lodged an application under section 44 of the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009 to amalgamate following membership ballots. The amalgamation was strongly but unsuccessfully opposed by employer organisations. On Wednesday Deputy President Gostencnik gave the Fair Work Commission’s (FWC) go-ahead and set the date for amalgamation at March 27.

The Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA) and Master Builders Australia (MBA) have wasted no time in lodging an appeal to a full bench of the FWC. These employer bodies strenuously opposed the amalgamation from the outset.

There was strong support from union members for the amalgamation. In a ballot conducted by the Australian Electoral Commission, 84 percent of MUA members who voted supported the amalgamation with 49 percent of members voting. Informal votes were low at 0.4 percent. TCFUA held an attendance ballot. Its members had a higher turn-out of 64 percent with 97 percent of those voting supporting the amalgamation. CFMEU members indicated strong support through membership meetings on construction sites.

Objections from the AMMA and MBA hit the airwaves as soon as the decision was announced. Steve Knott, AMMA Chief Executive, described the amalgamation, if allowed to go ahead, as a threat to the resources supply chain and Australia’s export revenues.

The new union would have a membership of more than 140,000 members and an annual income of more than $140 million. The AMMA and mass media attempts to whip up fears over the amalgamated union ignore the fact that the majority of a trade union’s income is used to employ staff and assist members.

“Allowing the CFMEU and MUA to form a new militant ‘Super-Union’ will put the economy and jobs in jeopardy,” Denita Wawn, CEO of the MBA said. “The MUA and CFMEU appear to share a common belief that they are above the law and are renowned for using tactics such as bullying, intimidation, and industrial thuggery,” Wawn said.

What she is referring to by such terms as “bullying”, “intimidation” and “industrial thuggery” are nothing of the sort. The language is designed to discredit trade unions and workers who take industrial action, trade union officials who exert their rights to enter workplaces, recruit union members, demand legal entitlements and other such legitimate trade union activity. Without the right and use of such methods workers would be powerless against powerful and often corrupt bosses, in particular in the resources and construction sector.

When these companies fail to abide by the law, fail to pay workers their legal entitlements or provide a safe working environment, nothing is said. But trade unions taking action to enforce workers’ rights are deemed to be breaking laws: laws that virtually outlaw all industrial action, outlaw pickets and impose hefty penalties and damages actions.

Both employer bodies are pressuring the government to put its amalgamation legislation to a vote in the Senate. It provides for a “public interest test” to be applied when the FWC is considering union mergers. Trade unions that repeatedly break the law, no matter how bad the law is, would fail the “public interest test.”

Following the FWC decision, the national secretary of the CFMEU, Michael O’Connor, stated, “Big Business has too much power, we have record levels of inequality in our community, and working families are finding it hard to make ends meet. …We are absolutely committed to a change of government, to changing the rules to restore balance and fairness into our communities, and to growing our movement.

“The combined strength of the CFMEU, MUA and TCFUA in our new union will write a new chapter in Australia’s union movement. Ordinary workers now have a powerful new force for change on their side. ... Big business and the federal government should now get out of the way so we can get on with winning better pay, conditions, rights, and secure jobs for our member,” O’Connor said.

International president of the new union, Paddy Crumlin, said, “Today is an important part of the renewal of our union and of our movement.”

The decision is an important victory. It also creates an important precedent for other trade unions that are discussing amalgamations.

Next article – Statement – Denounce the gov‘t terror listing in the Philippines

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