Govt drops all pre-WorkChoices charges against  employers and employees

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Govt drops all pre-WorkChoices charges against employers and employees

The Federal Government has dropped all pre-WorkChoices prosecutions against employers and employees saying it was time to draw a 'line in the sand'.

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The Federal Government has dropped all pre-WorkChoices prosecutions against employers and employees saying it was time to draw a 'line in the sand'.

One lot of charges that received considerable publicity involved Queensland workers who went on strike because they were being forced to live in accommodation infested with feral cats and fleas.

The ACTU says media pressure has forced the Government into dropping the charges, on which hundreds of thousands of dollars has already been spent in legal costs.

Background

The workers and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) were being pursued over industrial action taken over 18 months ago near Moranbah in central Queensland. The workers were doing maintenance on a dragline at the nearby Goonyella mine.

The workers took three days of industrial action because the accommodation they were expected to live in was infested with feral cats, fleas and raw sewerage. The issue was sorted out with the employer, and the workers went back to work when the accommodation was made habitable.

Unions say that 18 months down the track, without the support or involvement of the employer (Eagles Engineering), the Howard Government’s Department of Employment and Workplace Relations employed Melbourne’s top law firm, Freehills, to pursue the workers for breaching the Workplace Relations Act.

The workers faced fines up to $20,000 and the AMWU faced fines up into the $100,000s.

Government back-down says ACTU

ACTU Secretary Greg Combet said the workers faced fines for ‘protesting about the appalling conditions they were expected to live in’.

‘The Government independently spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on lawyer’s fees with Freehills to pursue these workers through the courts even though the employer, Eagles Engineering, did not wish to take the matter further,’ he said.

‘However after the union made it clear it would fight for these workers rights and the story of their unfair persecution became public Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews has backed down.

‘This case, just like the Cowra Abattoir case, shows that the Government knows its own laws are unfair and unjust and it will do anything to hide the truth about its laws from the public.’

Under the Government’s IR laws workers face fines from the Government if they take any industrial action the Workplace Relations Minister deems to be ‘illegal’.

Broader union reaction

AMWU Queensland secretary, Andrew Dettmer, said ‘the only reason the Federal Government is dropping this case is the bad publicity its industrial relations laws are getting’.

‘It did not want another series of horror headlines over this outrageous attack on working people who took completely justifiable industrial action,’ he said.

‘There is no doubt federal industrial relations law allows for workers to be prosecuted and fined for objecting to substandard living conditions. However, that is obviously not something the Howard Government wants people to hear too much about at the moment.’

Electrical Trades Union (ETU) Queensland secretary, Dick Williams, said a number of ETU members were also being prosecuted and it is ‘outrageous that people can be sued for things like this’.

All pre-WorkChoices actions dropped

Workplace Relations Minister Andrews said the government has made a decision it we will discontinue action taken prior to the 27 March.

‘We’ve decided to draw a line in the sand and to say to employers and employees there’s a new system operating and that everybody should be aware of it now and that the Office of Workplace Services and other inspectors will act whether it’s employers or employees,’ he said.

Related

Feral cats and fleas see mine workers facing $20,000 fines

 

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