Essential Report

History to be made in Adelaide on November 24

Nov 18, 2010

    Ark Tribe - construction worker

I’m going to Adelaide next week and I’m excited.

Obviously I take some satisfaction in being the first person to ever write that sentence, but I’ll take more if things go our way on November 24.

(Sorry, Adelaide. I understand how it feels to be the lazy gag writer’s best friend. I’m from Canberra.)

The South Australian capital will be the focus of the nation’s attention on Wednesday, because it is where we will finally find out whether the Australian Building and Construction Commission can put an ordinary worker in jail for sticking up for safety.

In 2008, the excellently named Ark Tribe, a construction worker, raised serious safety concerns with his employer on a site in Adelaide.

Later, he was approached on site by ABCC officers, who attempted to coerce him into an interview.

He allegedly refused. And that’s it.

(The issues Ark was raising on site later turned out to be completely valid. A safety regulator who attended the site afterwards confirmed it.)

This is why Ark has been facing 18 months of hell, being dragged through the courts as a test case for the ABCC’s draconian powers.

Now for those who don’t know, an ABCC interview is no minor affair.

The ABCC can prosecute workers for refusing to provide information on their workmates during an interview.

The Commission can prosecute a worker for talking about what was said during an interview to his friends or family afterwards.

And – apparently – if a worker refuses to attend such a Kafkaesque affair, well, they can prosecute then as well.

Ark now faces up to six months in prison.

His judgment day has been dragged out ad infinitum. The latest postponement was two days before he was due to receive a verdict on November 3.

He will now – hopefully – receive his verdict on November 24.

The ABCC was established in 2005 by the Howard Government as a thinly-veiled attempt to crack down on the power of construction unions.

Even though the commission’s brief is to be a watchdog on the entire industry, until this year it hadn’t brought a single prosecution against an employer. Just employees.

Ark’s verdict on Wednesday will be a huge day in Australian industrial history.

If he is found not guilty it will throw into question the very validity of the ABCC and its modus operandi. The Commission has poured incredible resources (read: your tax dollars) into this landmark case and failure will be catastrophic.

On the other hand, if Ark is found guilty we will potentially see an Australian worker go to jail for sticking up for safety on site. It’s been a long time since that happened.

The union will be out in force in Adelaide on Wednesday in solidarity for Ark. He’s become a hero of the movement for his bravery in sticking up for safety and not backing down in the face of considerable intimidation.

Lately, however, Ark admits the idea of prison has been playing on his mind.

This is just an ordinary bloke, remember. He may have served in the Australian Army in his youth, but for the last 22 years, he’s been in the construction industry.

Jail is a concept that frightens him, his partner and his family.

The EMC-constructed campaign website, Rights On Site has received thousands of messages of support for Ark. He’ll be taking a printout of them with him when he faces the magistrate on Wednesday.

I’ll be in Adelaide to assist the CFMEU in managing the media interest in the verdict. It’s sure to be a big day for the union.

But that much bigger for Ark Tribe.

– Anil Lambert, EMC


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