John Holland’s subcontractors leave workers unpaid

ETU National Secretary Allen Hicks leading a protest of construction workers against the Australian Building Construction Commission.

120 Chinese plasterers that had not been paid for six to eight weeks walked off the job last week on the Royal Hobart Hospital construction site in Tasmania, Australia. As a result of this action, the workers, who were recruited by Melbourne company Accuracy Interiors on inferior working conditions, will be receiving emergency payments from the lead contractor John Holland-Fairbrother joint venture, as well as other improvements.

“The lead contractor has done the right thing here in arranging emergency payments, but this situation should never have happened in the first place," said BWI Regional Representative Apolinar Tolentino. “Most of the affected workers have now joined the CFMEU, and we encourage other migrant workers in the Australian construction industry to do the same.”

The CFMEU is also pursuing another John Holland subcontractor on the Canberra Light Rail project, where 84 workers are owed AU$700,000 in lost wages. The union has filed a claim in the Federal Court alleging 55 contraventions of the Fair Work Act by John Holland and its subcontractors throughout 2017.    

In the same week 60 construction sites across the state of Victoria were brought to a halt by health and safety regulator WorkSafe, after a tragic crane collapse in Melbourne killed one and critically injured another. The company, Clarks Cranes, has been issued a cease work order, and the CFMEU has called for a safety review of crane operations in Victoria.

Despite a recent leadership shakeup within the Coalition Government, the political climate towards construction unions remains toxic, with new Prime Minister Scott Morrison publicly admitting that he was considering deregistering the CFMEU. 

“The Government is committed to attacking unions taking actions that defend construction workers’ rights”, said BWI Vice President for Asia Pacific and CFMEU National Secretary Dave Noonan. “This another step in the ongoing attack on the CFMEU, including the Royal Commission into Trade Union Corruption and the anti-worker Australian Building and Construction Commission [ABCC].”

Days later the CFMEU, ETU and other construction unions demonstrated their force in Sydney, with 5000 workers marching against the ABCC and in support of the nationwide ‘Change the Rules’ campaign.