Bob Carnegie is a trade-unionist of many years’ experience who helped organise “community protest” in the dispute which lasted more than nine weeks, in August-October 2012, at the Queensland Children’s Hospital construction site in Brisbane. He now faces 54 separate court charges from the main contractor, Abigroup, as well as a civil case for damages.
The term “community protest” is used because the anti-union legislation put through by the right, and not repealed by the current Labor government, bans strikes and pickets in such cases.
The dispute lasted nine weeks and was about wages and work conditions on the site. The workers wanted the main contractor, Abigroup, to negotiate an Enterprise Bargaining Agreement with the unions, and that agreement to include a clause which would guarantee that all workers employed on the site by subcontractors be paid the rate for the job. Almost all the workers on the site are employed by sub-contractors rather than by Abigroup, and the wages for similar work with different subcontractors could vary by up to $10 an hour.
Officials of the CFMEU, BLF, ETU, and Plumbers’ Union received court orders banning them from the vicinity of the site. The workers continued their action in the form of a “community protest” and asked Bob to help them organise.
Organising themselves democratically, the workers held firm. Eventually, a national strike of construction workers in Baulderstone’s, another branch of Abigroup’s parent company, Lend Lease, on 25-26 September 2012, tipped the balance and forced Abigroup to negotiate seriously.
Australia’s biggest construction company, Leighton’s, and another big company, Watpac, then also offered to negotiate union Enterprise Bargaining Agreements.
As part of the settlement, Abigroup agreed not to pursue legal action against a number of QCH workers. But now Abigroup is taking Bob to court on the grounds that he defied a court order which they got, banning him from the vicinity of the “community protest”. The right-wing Queensland state government has also asked to be part of the court case.
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.
A defence committee has been set up in Brisbane, and activists are working to spread the campaign across Australia and abroad.
Lawyers say that the case will last several months. The contempt of court charges could lead to fines of up to $400,000 and perhaps a prison sentences. Damages could be in the millions of dollars.
We need a big campaign to push Abigroup to drop its vindictive action against Bob Carnegie. It is an attempt to intimidate targeting not just an individual, but any organiser in any workers’ battle in future.
The secretary of the campaign is Tom Bramble, who can be contacted at P O Box 298, Corinda, Qld 4075; firstname.lastname@example.org; or 0413 293101 (+61 413 293101 if calling from outside Australia)
Bob Carnegie: years of commitment to the union and labour movement
1985: Bob was the first person to be arrested during the bitter South East Queensland Electricity Board (SEQEB) dispute. He was subsequently arrested nine times and jailed for three weeks.
1988-1994: Seamen’s Union of Australia (SUA) Honorary Queensland Branch President.
1984-1992: Co-Chairperson of Queensland Unions Against Apartheid.
1994-1998: Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) Southern Queensland Branch Organiser.
1995-2009: Convenor of the Workers Civil Rights group. This group waged three huge campaigns to maintain Common Law access for injured workers in Queensland.
1998: During the Patrick waterfront dispute, Bob worked with Californian longshore workers to launch a rank and file led boycott of the scab-loaded Columbus Canada. International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) locals 13 & 63 defied secondary boycott laws for 17 days. This act of international solidarity helped to win the dispute.
2004-2008: Builders’ Labourers Federation Queensland (BLF Q) organiser.
2007: Awarded the Civil Rights Awards by the Australian Plaintiff Lawyers Association for a lifetime of devotion to the cause of injured workers.
2007: Made a Patron of the Queensland Asbestos Related Disease Support Society (QARDSS).
2012: Presented with two awards by the Builders’ Labourers Federation Queensland for community activism.