ABCC, John Holland, West Gate Bridge


    Profit is the key measure of our success. Our focus on profit never wavers, but we know that without the dedication of our people, our sustained positive performance on our range of projects and our ability to continually build partnerships with our clients, our staff and the communities within which we revolve, projects will not be delivered.

    At John Holland, our people, performance and partnerships ensure that we deliver the very best profit.

    Leighton reports increased operating profit and work in hand at record $37.5 billion
    February 12, 2009

    The directors of Leighton Holdings Limited today announced a 20% increase in pre-tax operating profit before impairments to $387m but a 56% decrease in after tax Group profit to $111m due to the recognition of $239m of pre-tax asset impairments. A fully franked dividend of 60 cents per share was also announced by the directors versus a 50% franked interim dividend of 60 cents last year…

What price a life? In the case of John Holland, no more than $242,000.

Court case over coal port death
Owen Jacques
Daily Mercury
April 30, 2009

The family of Mark McCallum, a rigger and crane driver killed at Dalrymple Bay Coal terminal last year, is worried that his employer John Holland will not face justice.

CONSTRUCTION giant John Holland is facing court over the death of Mark McCallum, 34, at Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal last year.

Mr McCallum was killed in early May, 2008, crushed by industrial machinery as he worked on the port’s expansion.

Comcare, a Federal Government department which investigates and prosecutes breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, has taken the action that could lead to a maximum fine of $242,000…

Comcare was also still investigating John Holland over the deaths of two Filipino nationals who were killed when the troop carrier in which they were travelling rolled as they travelled to the Nebo MAC camp…

Like other corporate criminals, John Holland has form.

Established in 1949 by Sir John Holland, and now a subsidiary of Leighton Holdings, the company (along with others) covered itself in glory on October 15, 1970, when the West Gate Bridge collapsed, killing 35 workers and injuring many others — the worst industrial ‘accident’ in Victorian history. The Royal Commission into the collapse appears to have been quite generous in its attribution of responsibility. Or at least, this is what is stated in the extract the Victorian Government kindly provides:

…The commission was careful to examine the role each party played in the tragedy. It concluded:

‘The disaster which occurred … and the tragedy of the 35 deaths was utterly unnecessary. That it should have been allowed to happen was inexcusable. There was no sudden onslaught of natural forces, no unexpected failure of new or untested material.

The reasons for the collapse are to be found in the acts and omissions of those entrusted with building a bridge of a new and highly sophisticated design.

The various companies who supplied the materials used were not shown to be in any way at fault, and must be held blameless. However, among those engaged upon the design and construction of the steel spans there were mistakes, miscalculations, errors of judgement, failure of communication and sheer inefficiency. In greater or less degree, the Authority itself, the designers, the contractors, even the labour engaged in the work, must all take some part of the blame.’

~ Report of Royal Commission into the failure of West Gate Bridge, VPRS 2591/P0, unit 14

The Authority, the contractors and the labourers were to blame. Naturally, no names are mentioned.

Another extract — provided courtesy of The West Gate Bridge Memorial Committee and taken from the introduction to the Commission’s report — is more specific:

To attribute the failure of the bridge to this single action of removing bolts would be entirely misleading. In our opinion, the sources of the failure lie much further back; they arise from two main causes.

Primarily the designers of this major bridge, FF & P (Freeman Fox and Partners) failed altogether to give a proper and careful regard to the process of structural design. They failed also to give a proper check to the safety of the erection proposals put forward by the original contractors, WSC (World Services and Construction Pty Ltd). In consequence, the margins of safety for the bridge were inadequate during erection; they would also have been inadequate in the service condition had the bridge been completed.

A secondary cause leading to the disaster was the unusual method proposed by WSC for the erection of spans 10-11 and 14-15. This erection method, if it was to be successful, required more than usual care on the part of the contractor and a consequential responsibility on the consultants to ensure that such care was indeed exercised. Neither contractor, WSC nor later JHC (John Holland & Co), appears to have appreciated this need for great care, while the consultants FF & P, failed in their duty to prevent the contractor from using procedures liable to be dangerous.

Recently, major (re-)construction work has (re-)commenced on the Bridge, with the main contractor being John Holland. Word on the street is that the current structure is bound to fail, and to avert a second disaster at some unknown point in the future, the Bridge requires further work. Be that as it may, John Holland, with the full support of the Australian Building and Construction Commissioner (ABCC), has decided in its inestimable wisdom to go on the warpath against the Construction division of the CFMEU, one of a handful of ‘progressive’ union formations in Australia.

The Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC)

The ABCC was formally established on October 1, 2005:

The ABCC was established and provided with powers to enforce workplace laws, to address the problems that the building and construction industry encounters.

The ABCC provides a national service, with offices in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and Hobart. Its key objective is to ensure that workplace relations laws are enforced in building and construction industry workplaces. The ABCC also promotes proper conduct through educating industry participants on their rights and obligations.

The ABCC’s establishment followed the HoWARd Government’s institution of the Cole Royal Commission in August 2001. Its official purpose was “to enquire into and report on the nature, extent and effect of any unlawful or otherwise inappropriate conduct in the building and construction industry”. Unofficially, both the Commission and the ABCC formed (and in the case of the ABCC still forms) part of the HoWARd Government’s campaign to destroy or disrupt ‘militant’ (read: effective) trades unionism, and the labour movement more generally.

A key dimension in the class war, obviously.

One of the first shots fired in this campaign was directed at the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) in 1998, just two years after HoWARd was first elected. The conspiracy to smash the MUA — and it was a conspiracy — was later dramatised by the ABC in the docu-drama Bastard Boys (2007). Other accounts of the ‘War on the Waterfront’ include a compilation of articles published by the MUA and Tom Bramble’s lengthy essay written on behalf of the Brisbane Defend Our Unions Committee (October 1998).

Bridge Building and Bad Behaviour

While John Holland faces fines of up to $242,000 for breaches of OHS that lead to the death of a worker, the CFMEU (and AMWU) could be penalised twice that amount for taking industrial action: the company’s preference is to deal directly with Australia’s Worst Union (AWU), which has expressed its willingness to trade away conditions in exchange for coverage.

Unions under bad behaviour threat
Ben Schneiders
The Age
May 7, 2009

Two unions could be forced to accept an unprecedented $500,000 bad behaviour clause in an agreement to end a costly industrial dispute at the West Gate Bridge.

Senior industrial relations sources described the proposed agreement, which parties said was moving closer to completion, as “highly unusual”. One union leader said it could set a damaging precedent for unions…

Hear also : ‘The Westgate Bridge Disaster’ by Ken Mansell (Union Songs).


…You pass by the pickets on the front gate
You don’t care that you’re letting down your mates
I don’t know how you dare to show your face
Scum like you are a disgrace
Deserting your mates sucking up to the boss
Has all your self respect been lost?
You’re only thinking of the money thinking of yourself
Well you’re a dirty scab and you can go to hell…

*The following is an account of dishpig involvement in the 1998 MUA dispute:

On April 7th 1998 MUA workers were run off the Swanston Docks of Melbourne by balaclavaed thugs with dogs… in a military and brutal manner… as part of an attempt by the company [Patrick] to break the union hold on the waterfront by sacking the union workforce and using scab labour from the ranks of the desperate and stupid. Earlier in January a similar event happened on Webb Dock to facilitate the setting up of an “alternative” workforce.

The immediate response of the union was to set up picket lines bringing the transit of goods from the main docks of Melbourne (and around Australia) to a halt…

With the threat of forceful breaking of the picket line on April 18th the call went out and by the time Victoria’s Finest arrive to do their duty they find 4–5000 people gathered in support of the MUA dockers determined that it wasn’t gonna happen…

Totally outnumbered the police stand off, making a few optimistic feints towards the crowd, but never really seriously trying it on…

The feeling is electric… spiky punks stand and links arms with burly wharfies on one side and grannies on the other… searchlights try and pick their way through the swathes of thick smoke pouring from the fires lit to warm ourselves as the news and police choppers circle overhead…

With the arrival of several hundred building workers at 7am on the Saturday morning the police finally admit defeat and withdraw to lick their figurative wounds and wait for further orders…

As the day goes on people come and people go… the numbers up and down but never less than a few thousand with the comforting promise of doubling that again at the first sign of trouble… barricades are fortified, awnings and tents spring up about the place as people settle in to wait it out…

After a day of false alarms and drill after drill of linking arms to hold the line we (Dishpigs and others) leave with the general call for food ringing in our ears… promising to return the next day.

So come noon Sunday a few of us arrive in the (now dead but fondly remembered) Food Not Bombs van… equipped with a huge pot of soup and enough to make another…

Quickly setting up a table and and setting to on the vegies it was not long before the delicious aroma of the soup drew takers… cold and hungry from the long night…

From such small beginnings grew Food Not Scabs, a collective made up of DishPigs, Food Not Bombers and others, which fed that multitude of unionists and supporters 24 hours a day for going on 4 weeks.

We soon got into the swing of it… churning out delicious soup after delicious soup along with a few vege stews and with considerable respectful remembrance to Rocky who in that first 24 hours ran a marathon of stir fries without pause…

Amazed at our ability to operate non-stop providing good sustaining food the wharfies and other unionists and supporters couldn’t do enuff for us… from a rickety trestle table with a single burner and a handful of bowls and cups, Food Not Scabs soon found itself in a fully-equipped kitchen tent with a new burner and as much cooking materials and utensils as we wanted… Having a solid base became more and more important and most of us decided to move in for the duration with some living in the dead van whilst others slept under the cover of the infamous PTU tent which tended to act more like a windsock cum weather balloon than a shelter… nevertheless it did keep the sun off heh heh.

As time went on FNS very quickly became a well-organised force with a loose roster, regular supplies being brought in by the unions or donated by supporters, and enuff structure to be able to organise daily food drops to the other smaller pickets holding the lesser gates around the docks, as well as sending a bit of food to Webb Dock from time to time…

For three and a half weeks we fed people from all walks of life… wharfies, retired, kids, unemployed and professionals… all coming down to stand beside the MUA; to fight for their own right to organise and be unionised… through supporting the rights of the waterside workers. As it was in the 1930s people were quick to see the significance of the waterside dispute and recognise that a defeat for the wharfies would mean a long-ranging defeat for us all…

And throughout it all Food Not Scabs cooked
and cooked
and cooked
…and even took up organising entertainment with various gigs put on over the time to entertain the picketers and keep up the public awareness as well as attract people to come down in support.

We marched beside the MUA at the May Day rally (with much cynical humour) listening to the brown-nosing politicians always found at the picket line looking for cheap points. We linked arms at the sight of trouble and attended the drills. We even mounted a campaign against the use of disposable utensils… but ALWAYS our biggest concern was whether there was any soup.

Sadly what should have been a resounding victory for workers that would have sent the company dogs howling to their respective kennels was twisted, manipulated and finally sold out, with an agreement to sell off another 600 jobs and allow non-union labour into the maintenance and cleaning positions… the thin edge of a malicious wedge which will eventually destroy one of the last remaining stronghold of militant unionism…

    “Perhaps our greatest challenge and achievement has been the successful reform of the Australian waterfront: Patrick’s employees now embrace the new culture of productivity and service. Continuous improvements in work practices will remain our primary focus – a happy workforce equal better performance and better client service.”

Regardless of the abysmal sellout, many good and encouraging things came from the 30 odd days we gathered at the docks… the feeling of unity, the breaking down of false barriers between sections of the community, and even different unions themselves, and the level of autonomous co-operation that grew from the dock gates occupation is something not seen since the days of the tramways dispute or the deregistration of the BLF. Strong bonds were forged between union and community… employed and unemployed… bonds that will last and add further strength to the struggles that surely lie ahead…

Food Not Scabs itself was hilarious… an ever-evolving experiment in a return to propaganda by deed… it grew faster than we could ever have imagined… from a symbolic pot of soup on a old grey Sunday, Food Not Scabs became one of the central meeting points for cold weary and hungry picketers… marathon soup sessions would take place overnight… pots steaming in the midnight hours and rumours of cooks that never slept…

Incredibly successful in it own right, providing essential food to the picket line… Food Not Scabs was also a demonstration of spontaneous collectivity… providing ourselves with a chance to practice what we preach… and others an example of our ideas in action…

Food Not Scabs also provided food to picketers during an industrial dispute at the Australian Dyeing Company in 1999: the Clifton Hill factory closed its doors at the end of 2006, and the factory was demolished at the end of 2007.

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2024 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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2 Responses to ABCC, John Holland, West Gate Bridge

  1. eddy jackson says:

    i think that for what the scabs on the westgate project are doing they should be shot. i’ve been a union member for 35 year, am an experienced rigger / scaffolder, and i could not get a start. i’ve been out of work for 7 months. companies like hollands are getting government contracts because they are anti-union. the company are employing young, inexperienced kids so they can train them the way they want them to be trained. they don’t want us old union members and stewards – we educate the young ones. i’ve been a member of the awu and cfmeu. fuck rudd and the abcc commission. union forever.

  2. Pingback: Union and Community Summer School 2010 | slackbastard

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