AUSTRALIA’S building watchdog is demanding about 1300 workers involved in a wildcat strike at Woodside’s massive Pluto project be slapped with hefty fines immediately, in addition to being banned from striking for seven years.
The Australian Building and Construction Commissioner made the submission yesterday in Perth’s Federal Court at a hearing to decide what penalties should be imposed on 1335 workers who took part in the seven-day strike in January last year.
Workers are facing fines as high as $9100 each, or a total of more than $12m for the 1335 workers.
An agreement that would suspend the fines has already been reached between 13 companies that launched the action and lawyers for workers who are members of three unions. The agreement, which is yet to be ratified by the Federal Court, would see workers agree to a seven-year injunction on illegal strikes at Pluto, along with Woodside’s two other major West Australian projects, the Browse LNG development and the North West Shelf project.
In return, the fines would be suspended but workers would be faced with immediately having to pay up if found to have taken part in an illegal strike within seven years. They would also face possible contempt of court charges and, if found guilty, could face a prison sentence.
Despite the 13 construction contractors agreeing to suspension of the fines, the ABCC argued yesterday this was not appropriate.
“Suspension would not reflect the seriousness of the respondents’ (the workers) contraventions,” ABCC lawyer Ian Neil SC told judge Neil McKerracher.
“There’s no basis to conclude that any one of the respondents are capable of rehabilitation or that full suspension of the penalties would have a rehabilitative effect on any of the respondents.”
Justice McKerracher said the agreement had to be considered as a whole because workers were being exposed not only to fines if they breached the seven-year injunction but also a prison sentence because of the possibility they would be found to be in contempt of court.
“It’s a very, very serious order for an unusually long period of time, ” Justice McKerracher said.
He reserved his decision on whether the fines will be suspended and is yet to ratify the seven-year agreement.