GROCON has vowed to recoup $7 million in losses from union blockades across Melbourne building sites amid an uneasy ceasefire that carries the threat of more protests next week.
After an early-morning rally yesterday, about 60 employees returned to work at the Myer Emporium for the first time since August 21 after Grocon and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union agreed on Thursday night to suspend industrial action. But even though talks were set down for Fair Work Australia, both sides continued sparring.
Union organisers insisted workers would resume protests if talks broke down, although Bill Oliver, the state secretary of the construction division, said the union would enter Tuesday’s talks keen to end the dispute, over workers’ rights to appoint health and safety representatives, for good.
”It’s not our intention to go there and try not to come to an agreement, but quite obviously there is nothing written in here that says we can’t go back and have a peaceful demonstration in the way we have been having for the past 13 days,” Mr Oliver said.
Grocon chief executive Daniel Grollo said he was unfazed by the threat of more strikes. He said his company would continue legal action against union organisers for defying a court order calling for a lift of the blockade at Lonsdale Street. Blockades were also established at Footscray, Parkville and Collins Street.
Premier Ted Baillieu also indicated the state government would take legal action, as he used a speech at Infrastructure Partnership Australia to accuse the CFMEU of harming the economy, jobs and affordable infrastructure.
”If they’re going to trash the furniture they’re going to pay the bill,” Mr Baillieu said. ”I also suggest that others who seem to regard unlawful and violent union practices as just part of the so-called ‘industrial ball game’ must also start showing proper respect for the law.”
Mr Grollo said the costs of the dispute had been ”extremely significant” and that his company would pursue damages for working days lost.
Mr Oliver said it would be ”two, three, four years” before the matter went before court, while another source said the union would have no concerns over the sum being sought.
But ACTU secretary Dave Oliver said it was ”in no one’s interest to prolong the dispute by having actions continue in the courts long after the workplace issues have been resolved”.
Despite prolonged calls on the union from the federal and state governments to end the strikes, Bill Oliver said the blockades had been peaceful and successful.
He said Grocon could have called a truce a week earlier had it not knocked back Fair Work’s suggested two-week truce.
Both parties yesterday indicated next week’s talks would be protracted by wrangling over the conditions of the agreement. Mr Grollo said the end of the strike was unconditional, but Bill Oliver rejected this.
Federal Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten was glad the blockades had ended but was unimpressed by the length of the dispute. ”Do I think the last 16 days were worth it? Probably not, definitely not,” he told ABC television.
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