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Issue #1558      1 August 2012

Victory for construction workers

After one week of industrial action, construction workers on Lend Lease sites have won a significant victory, including improved wages and conditions, protections around security of employment and a site allowance for Barangaroo in Sydney. Workers on Lend Lease sites in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth commenced their action on Tuesday (July 21) last week. The sites included the controversial $10 billion Barangaroo project at Darling Harbour in Sydney where a community picket was maintained on Hickson Rd (The Hungry Mile).

The site’s union rep Peter Genovese in front of the CFMEU picket line. (Photo: Denis Doherty)

Building unions are attempting to negotiate a new national enterprise bargaining agreement with Lend Lease. The Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) said “the main points of disagreement in the dispute relate to wages and other issues”, including job security, site allowances and adding Western Australian workers to the agreement.

The company had steadfastly refused to accept the inclusion of a job security clause and equal pay and conditions for employees of sub-contractors. The unions were also demanding that Lend Lease employ additional apprentices and trainees across Australia.

Construction national secretary of the CFMEU Dave Noonan said, “The company’s position on delaying increases and the other issues is not acceptable to our members. They are prepared to fight hard to ensure Lend Lease come up with a better deal.”

The ACTU expressed its solidarity with the workers. Ged Kearney said the dispute highlighted why the ACTU was calling for better rights for contract workers as part of its campaign for secure work.

“People in casual, labour hire and contracting jobs are literally putting their lives on hold because they have no job or income security to plan for the future,” Kearney said.

“Unions are appalled that an iconic building firm like Lend Lease that last year made a profit of almost half a billion dollars is refusing to negotiate a job security clause in their enterprise agreement,” she said.

This is the third time the union has stopped work at the Barangaroo site. The first was in April work when tests revealed contamination by toxic substances, including asbestos and lead. Then again in June workers had to cease work when more asbestos was discovered on the site.

The Barangaroo project was approved by the former NSW Labor government which passed special legislation to enable Lend Lease to avoid all the usual approval processes. It was strongly opposed by heritage, environmental and other groups for a range of reasons including overdevelopment and its inappropriateness for the historic public waterfront site. It was not subjected to the normal environmental investigations.

The project includes two office block towers of up to 60 stories and a third hotel/apartment tower out over the water. The cruise ship terminal was closed to make way for the hotel.

The awarding of such a large project to develop public land to one company is unusual, to say the least. The details of Lend Leases’ contract are shrouded in secrecy.

The site includes The Hungry Mile, a historic stretch of waterfront land.

“It was on The Hungry Mile that the workers on the waterfront united and realised that their strength lay in their unity and hence they formed the Sydney Wharf Labourers Union in 1872,” Warren Smith says in the introduction of a pamphlet on the Hungry Mile. ( - Warren Smith is a national assistant secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia.)

Since then there have been many historic trade union struggles on the very site where last week’s community picket was held.

“It was on the Hungry Mile that the bitter struggles against the bull system took place; where workers were dehumanised in the name of greater profits as the biggest and strongest were rewarded with work while the rest were forced to fight like dogs over remaining scraps in order to feed their families,” Smith said.

Last week, it was the construction unions who were taking action along the Hungry Mile with the support of their comrades in the MUA and other unions. Again workers are fighting for secure jobs and humane wages and conditions.

The struggle is not over.  

Next article – NSW Teachers defending public education

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