Unionist faces six months jail under anti-union laws: interview with Ark Tribe

Ark Tribe, a rank-and-file member of the construction division of the South Australian branch of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) is facing six months in prison for refusing to attend an interview with the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

The ABCC purportedly ensures that workplace laws are upheld in the building and construction industry. It has never once prosecuted an employer for any breach of safety, awards or workplace agreements. Its sole role has been to investigate the activity of trade union members suspected of taking industrial action and to prosecute them, irrespective of any issues that arise on the job.

Tribe’s case will be heard in the Adelaide Magistrate’s Court on June 15-18, on a charge of not attending an interview with the ABCC after a dispute over safety issues at a construction site at Adelaide’s Flinders University in May 2008. Direct Action interviewed Tribe after the Brisbane Labour Day march.

How long have you been working in construction?

Since 1985; so that’s most of my working life, but I’d never come across a job as bad as the one at Flinders University. I’m still working, one day to the next with all this hanging over my head.

This was the job in which the charges revolve around?

Yes, that’s correct. There were a lot of safety concerns on the site that troubled us. They were typical issues that arise on construction sites. It’s a very competitive industry with an ever-changing work environment and pressures to get things done quickly. There were problems with trenches, falling hazards and excavation issues. They were all problems that could’ve been easily fixed if management had listened to us.

Were union officials allowed to visit the site?

It’s very difficult for union officials to gain entry on to construction sites as the laws are so restrictive. They can, but it requires a permit from the IRC [Industrial Relations Commission] and 24 hours notice. We had safety concerns that needed addressing immediately. We decided enough was enough and held a short stop-work meeting. We presented management with a petition highlighting the seriousness of the safety issues.

How did management respond to your concerns?

They didn’t give us a response. The boss went straight to the ABCC; was on the phone to them that day as well as the police. They had the police come on to the site and for what? We had every right to raise the concerns we had. It’s hard enough as it is without getting pursued by those creeps.

When did the ABCC start pursuing the workers on the site?

I don’t know exactly, but pretty soon we were getting phone calls and summoned before them. I was told by my fellow workmates that my phone would start ringing. I didn’t answer it and I refused to appear before them. I was charged in May and I had a court hearing in December last year.

How do you think the struggle against the anti-union laws is going?

Well, I think today was a good turn-out today by building workers and it was good to see everyone stick it to the deputy premier of Queensland, Paul Lucas. If I am jailed there will be a national day of action and I hope other construction unions support it.

Who do you see as being responsible for these laws?

“Johnny” Rudd. These are the bosses’ laws and while Howard brought them in, Kevin Rudd needs to take responsibility for them. They are his laws now.

What did you think of him being here today in the march?

Well I’m pleased to say the builders labourers were leading the march with this Labour Day marking 100 years for the BLF [Builders Labourers’ Federation]. It’s very telling that he chose to mingle in the midst of it and not stand out front.

However, I wasn’t going to let him off the hook. I looked him straight in the face and asked how he can call his laws Fair Work Australia? Where’s my fair go? He couldn’t even respond; just looked away in the other direction.

What needs to happen to resolve this situation?

As far as the laws are concerned, they must be defeated and the ABCC must be abolished.