“It's about the passion”

Union violence on Westgate Bridge
Court fines unions $1.3 million

4 August 2010

The upgrade to the Westgate Bridge in Melbourne during 2009 has been plagued with violence and intimidation. It's been a long drawn-out saga caused by a dispute between unions over who would 'control' the site. In late July 2010 the Federal Court issued fines of $1.3millon against 2 unions and several union officials. Here's the link to the court decision.

To understand just how bad the violence and intimidation has been, we have here:
  • Videos and examples of the intimidation and harassment (click here)
  • Excerpts from the court judgment that describe some events (Caution: once again there's lots of foul language) (see below)
  • A selection of newspaper articles (see below)
To give an overview, Ken Phillips wrote the following in Business Spectator in April 2009:
    The current West Gate Bridge upgrade has virtually stopped because of violence and threats. Correspondence to unions from contractor John Holland alleges a security guard has been threatened along with his family. Workers say they have been followed home and photographed and abused. Gates have been welded shut and vehicles smashed. Workers have been surrounded in their cars by groups of people threatening them with violence---one car allegedly being "pushed, kicked and rocked".

    The same correspondence explains that the unions have court restraining orders against them which allegedly are being ignored.

    What's happened in the last few weeks could almost be mistaken for a bikie-gang war. The contractors doing the work on the West Gate Bridge are reportedly using an ex-army troop carrier to move workers into and out of the site safely.

    Last week this vehicle was allegedly pursued by several cars driven by men wearing balaclavas who approached the vehicle when it stopped. Police were called and five men have been charged with offences including assault related to the incident.

    This war, however, is not between bikie gangs, but rather is an outcome of disputes between construction unions over who controls worksites. Some laugh off the violence in the construction industry as a bit of harmless 'biffo' between blokes. It's no joke. Under other circumstances it would be considered the worst form of workplace bullying. The allegations raised suggest it may extend beyond this to criminal behaviour.
Here are excerpts from the July 2010 Federal Court judgment which included fining the unions $1.3million. (Caution: Of necessity, the court findings repeat a good deal of foul language.)

Federal Court of Australia [2010] FCA 754 involving the building unions CFMEU, AMWU and union officials Mick Powell, Tony Mavromatis, Gareth Stephenson, Julio Pizarro

Extreme abuse, intimidation, bullying and foul language

    46. At about 11:45 am on 6 March 2009, Mr Powell addressed a group of about 30 or 40 of the protesters. At about 12:20 pm, the protesters packed up the barbeque and sun shades, and started to leave. Upon noticing two of the protesters handling the rope on the John Holland flag pole, Mr Lee took out his camera as if to take a photograph of them. A short time later, Mr Mavromatis, who was sitting in his car at the time, took a photograph of Mr Lee, at which time he (Mavromatis) said, "smile c**t". He then commenced to abuse Mr Lee in words reported by the latter as:
      Your whole family will be on this camera c**t....You just made it personal c**t....I'm gunna get the lot of you....I heard everything you said c**t....You're f**king gone c**t....You're f**ked...laugh now c**t, I'll f**king get you....f**king coppa wanna-be....You f**king loser, you wanna get personal? You don't know how f**ked you are....You're gone c**t, you grey haired c**t.

    Mr Lee did not respond to these taunts, but turned to walk back inside the project head office. As he was doing so, Mr Mavromatis yelled at him: "You are too f**king stupid to be a copper so you had to be a security guard ... Yeah, f**k off, you're too dumb to f**king understand." Mr Mavromatis then drove off.
    49. Mr Lee gave evidence which was, broadly, confirmatory of the evidence of Mr Marshall as to these incidents on 6 March 2009. He added further details which involved him, and one of his colleagues called Jason Williams, which had not been mentioned by Mr Marshall. After Messrs Marshall and Lee had gone into the project head office, Mr Mavromatis came up to the sliding glass doors of the building and abused him and Mr Williams, such as by calling Mr Lee "a grey-haired f**king woman", and "ugly c**t" and a "copper wanna-be". Mr Mavromatis said to Mr Lee, "good job you did on the steps you f**king woman" (with apparent reference to the fact that Mr Lee had earlier been obliged to sweep the tan-bark from the steps which had apparently been scattered there by the protesters). Mr Mavromatis yelled at Mr Williams, "Hey junior, what are you working with that ugly old c**t for, I tried to take a photo of him and my camera cracked". Mr Mavromatis put the AMWU flag up to the window with his face behind it, pulling it from side to side, and up and down, and saying "peek a boo". He said "I treat children like children". He then poked out his tongue at Messrs Lee and Williams, and moved it in and out, according to Mr Lee, as though "mimicking a person giving cunnilingus". Mr Mavromatis asked Mr Lee twice if he wanted to come outside saying, "Come on, you know you want to have a go" and "Come outside and have a go and see what happens, you know you want to".

Fear of being bashed

    83. On 17 March 2009, Mr Marshall arrived at the corporate head office in Abbotsford. He noticed a picket of about 12 men established outside the entrance to the office. He had arranged for nine construction workers - either directly employed by John Holland or employed by WorkPac - to attend at the corporate head office for further training. One of the WorkPac employees arrived there at 6:20 am, and noticed about ten people dressed in construction work gear holding a protest outside the main entrance. To avoid these protesters, the worker parked his car about two kilometres away, walked down a bicycle path to the rear of the office and secured unobserved entry by scaling a fence more than two metres high. Another worker secured access by similar means. Others were not so resourceful: they told Mr Marshall that they had been physically chased away by the picketers in attendance, and had been verbally abused. They said that the picketers had parked all around the streets in the vicinity of the head office. They telephoned Mr Marshall to advise him that, as a result, they had not been able to attend the office for training. Mr Marshall issued instructions that new construction workers should not attempt to enter the head office that morning while the picket was in place.

Workers cars vandalized. Extreme intimidation and workplace bullying

    114. John Holland having made that decision, it was necessary only for the workers to leave the project head office, return to their own vehicles, and go home. From about 3:30 pm, the workers left the building, to return to their vehicles. As they did so, they were heckled, yelled at and abused by the protesters. The protesters were yelling such remarks as, "Scabs", "Don't come back" and "We will be here tomorrow and the day after". As they walked towards their cars, many of the workers were escorted by police. The last worker to leave the project head office on 30 March 2009 was a rigger employed by WorkPac. As he approached his vehicle (a utility), he noticed 30-50 protesters around it, on the footpath and on the road. The right front tyre of his vehicle was flat. He was unable to unlock the door as someone had snapped twigs inside the lock barrel. The tray of his utility was filled with rubbish that had not previously been there. While he was trying to secure access to his vehicle, the protesters around him were screaming such things as, "You're a f**king scab, scabby c**t, see what's happening to you? See what f**king John Holland's doing to you? See what situation you're in now!" This kind of heckling went on for about a minute. The rigger recognised some of the protesters to be workers whom he had known at an unrelated site in Dandenong the previous year. John Holland lent the rigger another vehicle, which he used to leave the vicinity. His departure was, for a short distance, under police escort.
    116. During the course of his earlier conversations with the protesters, the police sergeant had asked them to remove the car that was blocking the roller-door entry to the project head office, failing which he would make arrangements to have it towed away. Some time later, the car was removed. At about 2:12 pm the applicant, in the company of one of his colleagues, was driving his car along a road in the vicinity of the project head office when the car that had been blocking the entrance swing out suddenly from a parked position and blocked the road in front of the applicant's car. The applicant stopped his car. The occupant of the other car, Mr Pizarro, emerged from that car and rushed, on foot, towards the applicant's car. The applicant locked the doors of his car. Mr Pizarro reached the driver's side window of the applicant's car and yelled (to the applicant): "f**k off, just f**k off, I'm telling you to f**k off, you're f**ked." Mr Pizarro leaned across the windscreen of the applicant's car, pointed to the applicant's colleague and yelled to her: "And you're f**ked too". Mr Pizarro took a door handle of the applicant's car and pulled so hard on it that the applicant could feel the car moving from side to side. He did the same with the handle on a rear door of the car. The applicant drove his car forward and managed to escape from the attentions of Mr Pizarro.

Newspaper articles

Here are some articles from 2009 that explain the violence on the Westgate Bridge project and why the construction cop is needed:

The Age: Underworld investigations, January 2010

Paid thugs used on picket lines, April 2009

Bikie gangs used? April 2009

The Age: Building disputes plummet under ABCC, December 2009

Ken Phillips, Business Spectator: Don't dump ABCC, January 2010