14 April 2021

Excellent essay by Agatha Court: “On 6 November 2019, two Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) inspectors arrived at a multi-million dollar [Lendlease] construction site in Melbourne. Given the complex processes involved in building a project such as this, the presence of a government regulatory agency is not surprising; work health and safety standards, building quality, structural soundness, and wage theft are ongoing issues within the industry, and compliance checks would be expected. Yet the two inspectors were not there for those reasons. Rather, ‘the purpose of the visit was to identify and take photographs of any union mottos, logos or indicia observed on the cranes, walls of the walkway and the walls of the lunch rooms as a continuation of an audit to assess compliance with the Code for the Tendering and Performance of Building Work 2016 (the Code).’ … Enforcement of the Code has led to the dismissal of workers who have refused to remove stickers from their helmets. In 2016, construction company Laing O’Rourke sacked three union members and gave written warnings to 130 others for refusing to comply with a direction to remove their stickers. Laing O’Rourke undertook this action at the direction of the ABCC following a Fair Work Building Commission audit of the site that found ‘serious breaches’ — meaning workers wearing sticker-covered hard hats. … The Code and the ABCC are extreme, even within the neoliberal legal landscape of Australia. They are examples of the increasingly tightening grip on dissent that characterises the deeply illiberal heart of the neoliberal system and the use of institutions to erase spaces, real and imaginary, that present any alternative to it.”