A BLUE-COLLAR union, accused of being behind a Werribee picket line, is being pursued for millions of dollars in damages, which could include the cost of flying helicopters over the heads of the protesters.
The Fair Work Building and Construction inspectorate has launched Federal Court action against the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, with a hearing to be held on Tuesday.
The inspectorate has confirmed it will seek damages from the union for losses to contractors and penalties for alleged breaches of the law. Contractors have claimed that the week-long blockade has cost them $300,000 a day, while it is understood the helicopter hire has been about $6000 a day.
Jessie Marcilang, 31, from the Philippines, is working at the City West Water Western Treatment Plant at Werribee using a 457 visa. Locals picket the site (inset top), while workers are flown in by helicopter (bottom). Photo: Penny Stephens
Helicopters will be used for a third time on Tuesday morning as contractors attempt to again breach the week-long blockade at a $40 million City West Water project at Werribee.
The dramatic helicopter tactic was first used on Saturday and again on Monday after dozens of unemployed protesters blockaded the entrance to the site and attacked the use of foreign labour. They have pushed to get work on the City West Water project.
Police said they were ''monitoring'' the demonstration, while City West Water would not say if it wanted police to act.
Premier Ted Baillieu accused unions of changing tactics to evade the law. ''This picket is unacceptable and ought to be withdrawn,'' he said. ''There are entirely legal employment activities going on, on that site.''
Mr Baillieu said the protest has ''all the signs of a union picket that is disguised as something else''. He flagged changes to the law, although workplace relations come under federal law.
''I think we've seen that over the past 10 years, rotating [union] members through pickets so that anybody who is subject to a legal order from the courts is rotated out and others are rotated in. I think there is some room to review that …''
Protest spokesman Nick Donohue, formerly a delegate to the union, denied the AMWU was behind the protest as he attacked safety standards on site and the use of foreign labour.
AMWU assistant secretary Leigh Diehm accused the Baillieu government of manufacturing disputes. ''The union did not organise the protest but we understand why it's occurred,'' he said. ''The company has - with the support of the government [through City West Water] - employed a right-wing activist associated with the HR Nicholls Society.''
Mr Diehm said the company had employed 457 visa workers while there was a ''real problem'' with unemployment for local skilled trades people.
A director at head contractor Tedra Australia, Alan Atchison, defended the use of four Filipino workers, engaged on 457 work visas.
''Our tank constructer [Briagolong Engineering] has a mobile workforce, which means that before they started on our job they were working in Papua New Guinea on a major steel tank up in Port Moresby,'' he said.
Jessie Marcilang, a 457 visa holder, said the Australian government gave him a visa to work and he just wanted to be able to.
''I came to work, not to make trouble,'' the 31-year-old Filipino said. ''I hope they [the protesters] understand that. I have a dream to live here one day; the government make me a citizen, hopefully.''
Mr Marcilang said he was being paid $37 an hour, the same he thought as his fellow workers who were Australian. In his contract he is provided with accommodation.
Federal opposition workplace relations spokesman Eric Abetz said the blockade was ''another example of what happens to our industrial landscape with the demise of the Australian Building and Construction Commission''.
Senator Abetz described the behaviour of the union as ''divisive'' and ''destructive'' as he also attacked personal abuse allegedly directed at the Filipino workers.
A WorkSafe Victoria spokesman said its inspectors visited the site last Friday and discussed safety issues with the contractors.
''All matters were resolved and no further action from WorkSafe is required,'' he said
With LUCILLE KEEN