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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

'I'm not prepared to pay these fines' -- WA construction worker

John Pes has become the public face of the 107 Western Australian construction workers who have been threatened with fines of up to $28,600 after taking strike action on the Leighton Kumagai-run Perth to Mandurah rail construction project in February.

No longer in the construction industry, Pes, like his former workmates, is now feeling the full impact of the Howard government’s draconian anti-worker legislation.

The WA press has been relentless in its campaign of demonising construction workers and their union, the CFMEU. Talking with Pes, I got the distinct impression I was talking to a hard working blue-collar worker, doing his best to earn a living to raise a young family.

I asked him why he had given interviews to Murdoch’s Australian newspaper and the ABC TV’s 7.30 Report and not the West Australian. “I haven’t spoken to the West Australian because they haven’t even tried to negotiate with me for an interview”, he answered. “And I can tell you right now, if they do I’ll tell them to go away. It doesn’t matter what union it is, they just write stuff to make us look bad, all the time!”

Pes described the actual conditions he and his fellow workers had worked under on the Leighton Kumagai-run project. The workers faced a standard work week of 56 hours. He said many of the workers had to work well in excess of these hours, damaging their home lives and family relationships.

He said his own experience in the construction industry had been fine up until he began work on the Leighton Kumagai tunnel project. He said that because the previous attention paid to the CFMEU by the federal Building Industry Task Force — the predecessor organisation to the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) — had been ineffectual for the Howard government and the construction bosses, he believed the huge cost overruns incurred by Leighton Kumagai on the tunnel section of the rail project had been used to trigger the cur

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