Workers dealt hefty fines for unlawful strike

workersMORE than 100 workers at Woodside’s Pluto project have been fined for their involvement in an unlawful strike in 2008.
The Federal Court found that the strike caused significant project delays and economic losses, and issued more than $1 million in fines to the individuals involved.
Of the 117 workers employed at the time by CBI Construction, 24 received fines of $10,000 each, while 61 were fined $5000 each, with a further $5000 suspended for three years and payable should the individuals break any industrial laws within that period.
The remaining workers were fined lesser amounts as they had not been involved in the whole eight-day strike, which was related to disputes about redundancy payments. The workers claimed that their union collective agreement entitled them to a redundancy payment and re-employment to the next phase of the project. At the time, CBI denied the claim on the basis that the project had not entered a new phase.
The Australian Industrial Relations Commission (since replaced by the Fair Work Building and Construction Inspectorate) issued a return-to-work order on the first day of the strike, which was largely ignored.
Media reports have speculated that the tough penalties in this case – believed to be the biggest individual striking fine ever issued in Australia – are indicative of the industrial standards likely to return under the Abbott Government.
“Now the Abbott Government wants to bring these draconian laws back in the face of every international labour convention under the International Labour Organisation,” Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union WA branch secretary Mick Buchan said.
According to The West Australian, Mr Buchan called the decision a “vindictive judgement” and accused the court of levying the fine against individuals because it had failed to pin responsibility for the strike on the CFMEU.
Mr Buchan said it was unfair that construction workers risked huge financial penalties for withdrawing their labour during legitimate grievances, while other workers, such as striking teachers, were not subject to individual fines.
Meanwhile, Woodside told The Pilbara Echo it would be reducing the number of site-based staff at the Pluto project as a result of implementing a new organisational model.
A Woodside spokesperson would not confirm how many employees would be affected by the new model, which would be implemented as the project transitioned from a construction phase into a steady operational phase.
“Woodside’s aim is to retain all our employees during this organisational change in either ongoing Pluto LNG roles, or alternative Woodside opportunities,” the spokesperson said.
“This will include a mix of residential and FIFO positions.”
The staff restructuring would be undertaken in phases and was expected to be completed by 2015.
“Woodside will continue to maintain a significant residential workforce to support its operations in the Shire of Roebourne,” the spokesperson said.