Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

John Holland attempt to crush construction unions

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The Victorian branches of the construction workers union, the CFMEU, and the metal workers union, the AMWU, have been locked in a crucial industrial battle with civil construction giant, John Holland.

John Holland has the State Government contract to strengthen the massive Westgate Bridge in Melbourne. The company wants to get rid of the militant CFMEU and AMWU from their jobs so they can pay lower wages, have cheaper conditions, and save money on safety.

As we go to press, there is a 48 hour truce with no pickets and no work occurring. On Wednesday this week the unions organised mass pickets of up to 2000 workers to stop scabs working on the project. Several inner city construction jobs were closed down. The workers faced off for hours with up to 300 police mobilised to protect a handful of scabs.

When John Holland won the contract for the West Gate job, they used Civil Pacific Services (CPS) as a labour hire contractor. The 35 workers originally employed were told to sign an inferior industrial agreement with the company and join the weak Australian Workers Union (AWU).

Wages in the agreement were to be up to $10 an hour less. New starters would earn 20 per cent less than other construction workers on similar jobs and have a six month probation period. The workers said no and eventually CPS agreed to sign an appropriate agreement with the AMWU and CFMEU. However this was too much for John Holland, who got rid of CPS and started sourcing scab labour.

The industrial relations strategy of John Holland is being driven by their Industrial Relations manager, Darren Nelson. Nelson is an ex-leader of the AMWU who has gone over to the side of the employers. In 2002 amidst factional battles inside the AMWU, Nelson negotiated himself a nice little package to “go away”. The Age reported that: “Nelson has been given a year’s severance pay and a car, plus a $2000 job search allowance.”

He used his $2000 well and after a failed career as a labour hire boss, ended up as IR manager at John Holland. Like many a Judas from the union movement, he now has a pathological hatred for workers and their organisations.

While the role of John Holland and Darren Nelson is truly disgusting, what is worse is that this is a State Government job – and the same government will come to the CFMEU and AMWU next year seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars in member’s money to finance their election campaign. The leaders of the AMWU and CFMEU need to break with the Labor Party after their support for Holland’s union bashing during this dispute.

The unions should broaden the fight and organise wider industrial action across other John Holland and State Government jobs. We can not allow big business to use the recession to drive down wages and conditions and attack unions. The Labor Party’s anti-union laws need to be challenged by mass industrial action.

Let’s leave the last word to Darren Nelson, who in his previous life as a union organiser told a left wing newspaper in 2000: “Trade unionism is going into extinction the way we are operating now. We need to go back to organising on the job – having a bit of a dip and a blue about what members want, not what corporate Australia want. Then we’d see a healthy and prosperous trade union movement that is relevant and that is listened to.”

By SP reporters


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