Striking plasterers win back pay and higher wages

More than 100 striking plasterers on the Royal Hobart Hospital construction project have won back-payment of their wages and coverage by a union-struck enterprise agreement. 

In yet another chapter exposing the hyper-exploitation of migrant workers that is endemic to key parts of the Australian economy, Chinese plasterers working on the $689 million hospital redevelopment walked off the job on 6 September. They stopped work in protest over sham contracting arrangements and the non-payment of wages. Many workers had gone eight weeks without pay. They were followed a week later by around 30 local workers who hadn’t been paid for a week. 

While their action was initially wildcat, most of the Chinese workers have since joined the CFMMEU. The plasterers were hired through Melbourne-based subcontractor Accuracy Interiors on a range of temporary visas. The union said that the managing contractor, a joint venture between John Holland and Fairbrother, had known about the situation for weeks before the workers forced the issue to a head. 

In addition, following CFMMEU action, Chinese plasterers at two Victorian sites also stopped work – 40 at the Blue Sky apartment project in North Melbourne and 20 at La Trobe University’s Bendigo campus.

A CFMMEU organiser in Hobart, Kevin Harkins, said, “This is an epidemic in our industry.” In 2016, more than 50 low-paid Chinese plasterers and carpenters working on the $630 million Bendigo Hospital were left without two months’ wages after Melbourne-based fit-out subcontractor Asset Interiors collapsed and went into administration. In 2014, John Holland was found to be employing underpaid migrant workers on the $1.2 billion Perth Children’s Hospital. A recent parliamentary inquiry into the project heard that John Holland was responsible for creating a “culture of fear” that prevented workers from speaking out about unsafe working conditions.

The CFMMEU reported that, with some RHH plasterers missing up to $12,000 in wages and entitlements, the total owing to workers on the project amounted to approximately $1.5 million. After union intervention, the John Holland and Fairbrother joint venture has cancelled its contract with Accuracy Interiors and will pay workers what they are owed.

With significant plastering work yet to be completed, all 130 plasterers are now back at work and being paid the industry standard rates set by the Victorian union-negotiated enterprise agreement for construction workers.

Read more
McGowan’s real legacy
Nick Everett

“I’m exhausted”, declared West Australian Premier Mark McGowan when announcing his resignation at a press conference on 29 May. So too are the state’s 40,000 nurses, who, under McGowan’s government, have confronted daily staff shortages, declining real wages and attacks on their union.

Canada's fossil fuelled catastrophe
Zak Borzovoy

Wildfires are tearing through the Canadian province of Alberta, the heart of Canada’s lucrative oil and gas industry. The images of orange and black skies from the thick smoke—which is now billowing across the US border, causing air quality warnings in several northern states—are dystopian yet familiar.

Jacky shines a light on racism and exploitation
Jacky shines a light
Sarah Garnham

You’re just a performing fucking monkey”. A racist barb, and one of many pointed moments in Jacky, a Melbourne Theatre Company production currently playing at the Arts Centre. Jacky is about the politics of performing monkeys. It is about racism and exploitation, hypocrisy and resistance.

Historic US university strike wins
Alexis Vassiley

Academic workers at Rutgers University in New Jersey have achieved a stunning victory with a serious campaign of industrial action, centred on an open-ended strike. Their approach is a model for unionists in Australia.

Why I’m voting No to Sydney Uni EA
Alma Torlakovic

NTEU Fightback, a rank-and-file union group of the National Tertiary Education Union at the University of Sydney, is calling on staff to vote No in the upcoming ballot on the proposed enterprise agreement. The campaign was launched at a forum on 25 May, attended by over 50 people. A members’ meeting on 13 June will consider the agreement. This week will probably be the first time that members are provided with a full list of proposed changes to our working conditions.