UPDATE: Curtis Island strike found to be unprotected

UPDATE: The Fair Work Commission have ordered the CFMEU to stop strike action at Curtis Island, in an interim decision released this afternoon.

The order clarifies earlier notices, which only ordered those participating in unprotected action to cease.

The decision by senior deputy president Watson in Melbourne states that notice given by the CFMEU on July 31 did not specify the nature of the industrial action to be taken.

Watson said that action taken in reliance of that notice was therefore not protected industrial action, and must be subject to the order to stop.

Subsequent notices issued by the CFMEU on August 7 and 8 suffered from the same deficiencies, however notice given on August 10 does not suffer from the deficiencies highlighted by senior deputy president Watson.

10:30am: Disrupted work on the Curtis Island gas projects has led to attempts by Bechtel to stop strike action through Fair Work Australia.

However, strike action by members of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union is ongoing, with estimates by the CFMEU this morning of 500 workers striking at the Port Central ferry terminal, and 150 workers at the Fisherman’s Wharf ferry terminal.

An interim order has been issued by Fair Work Australia on Sunday to all workers who were not covered by the approval for protected action, that industrial action “must stop, not occur and not be organised”.

The order states that Industrial Action does not include protected industrial action, or action by employees taken on the basis of a safety risk that might occur as a result of crossing a picket line.

The CFMEU have said that the approval for protected action has no time limit.

Workers on Curtis Island reported a two hour work stoppage on Friday, and no work performed on Saturday and Sunday.

Workers from other unions on the island were also known to have refused to go to work in support of the strike action.

Bechtel have reissued their intention to lock-out employees who participated in the strike action, however it is not known how Bechtel will ensure that it does not wrongfully lockout employees who chose not to cross picket lines for safety reasons, a legal right outlined by Fair Work Australia.

CFMEU spokesman Jade Ingham told Australian Mining that at times there were 400 to 500 people on picket lines at the Port Central and Fisherman’s Wharf ferry terminals, where workers are transported to and from Curtis Island.

Ingham said workers were unwilling to back down in the face of Bechtel’s notices of intent to lockout workers involved in the strike.

“The blokes are up to the challenge, they’re sick of being bullied and intimidated, and they saw that as just the latest example of Bechtel’s thuggery,” Ingham said.

“For exercising a fundamental right and a legal right to withdraw their labour, they shouldn’t have to put up with bullying and thuggery for exercising a fundamental right in any modern democracy.”

Ingham denied claims published in the Gladstone Observer that workers were abusive, spitting, or breaking car windows.

“That’s absolute rubbish. I was present at both picket lines and I never saw any of that,” he said.

“That’s just an example of Bechtel’s mudslinging and obfuscation to try and distract from the real issue at hand which is that they are absolutely pigheaded about awarding these workers a decent roster and a decent agreement.

“These lies and falsities that they are putting out to the public are nothing short of insulting to the guys that have been disciplined, respective, peaceful and simply exercising a democratic right.

“We’re not talking about a major financial imposts on the company, we’re talking about a shorter roster.”

Efforts by the unions representing workers to negotiate for a shorter, 3/1 roster, both on Curtis Island with Bechtel and at Cape Lambert in WA with Laing O'Rourke, have been met with criticism from internet commenters who suggest that workers signed up to the EBA with a 4/1 roster and should have to keep working that roster without argument.

However, supporters of the move to more family friendly rosters have slammed such arguments as failing to support workers and their families.

“We also signed up knowing that this agreement would expire in June of 2014 and an opportunity would present itself for us to negotiate better conditions, an opportunity to legally take protected industrial action should those negotiations fail,” one commentor said on the FIFO Construction Workers 3/1 Forum.

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