Articles

The Builders Labourers Federation “Never Powerless” - Lessons for the 21st century

CONTENTS

Norm Gallagher
Norm Gallagher, an important leader of the BLF and the Australian Labour Movement

INTRODUCTION - Brian Boyd                                                   

REVIEWING THE PAST, RENEWING THE PRESENT - Norm Wallace

RECOLLECTIONS - Paddy Donnelly

NORM GALLAGHER AND THE GREEN BANS - Dave Kerin

KICK UP A STORM, FREE NORM - George Despard

A special acknowledgement to Malcolm McDonald former Victorian Secretary of the FEDFA, for his recollections and editorial support.

INTRODUCTION WW2 to 1986

Brian Boyd

- Brian Boyd

It has been a perennial problem for the union movement to pass on to new generations of workers how their working conditions and wages were achieved. Many an activist unionist has bemoaned how younger workers take for granted the conditions they enjoy, or worse, believe it all comes from the “good heartedness” of the boss.


The industrial and political impact of the BLF, especially between WW2 and the early 1980’s, is a story that should be told as a contribution to informing workers of the 21st century how key established working conditions were won through much struggle, over long campaigns.

The BLF one out, but often in concert with other building unions, deserves due recognition for the establishment of many entitlements which we expect today, and which are outlined by Norm Wallace below.

Many gains initiated in the nation’s building industry would often transfer into other industries. The history of the struggles of the BLF, are rich in lessons for today’s union movement. As we go forward
into the second decade of the 21st Century, we see unions under pressure as always by the ‘powers that be’.

The BLF under the leadership of Paddy Malone and Norm Gallagher saw the practice of ‘putting politics in command’ as a guiding principle for the union. It was no secret these two BLF leaders were
communists. They responded to the needs of the union’s membership from a working-class point of view.

In turn, they responded to the various issues raised by the wider community with a united front approach, when that was possible. Gallagher would lend a sympathetic ear for example to the
conservation causes of protecting heritage buildings. Around Melbourne BLF ‘Green Bans’ would be crucial in saving from the wreckers ball a number of Melbourne’s icons; these are referred to by Dave Kerin in his piece below on the Green Bans.

Gallagher would argue it was important for the militant BLF to have good relationships with the community. The union’s enemies, he pointed out regularly, would always try to isolate the BLF from the public in order to try to weaken its contributions to both the rank and file and around wider social issues.

All of this suggests there is much worth in recording the narrative surviving from the days of the Builders Labourers federation. The fight to defend workers’ rights remains the key task of Australia’s union movement. A wider appreciation of the story of the BLF can contribute a positive input in this regard.

Such a story is characterised by struggle, by wins and losses, resulting finally in improved wages, working conditions and conservation.

The political and industrial conflicts the BLF had with employers and governments contain many lessons. The BLF saga is a history that has yet to be fully recorded, never mind given some practical analysis.

The role of Norm Gallagher as a senior figure in these four decades of the building industry deserves some wider and deeper considerations as well. The conservative, capitalist media has given a biased, one sided view of the BLF and Gallagher over the years.

When the BLF was deregistered in 1986 and again finally in 1991, with the various States based branches of the union eventually merging in various ways with the CFMEU, the historical contribution of the BLF tended to be overlooked, as the years went by.

The BLF was definitely an industry leader in pushing for proper wage rates and working conditions on the nation’s building sites. Achieving a fair rate for a builders labourer, in comparison to the rates established by the traditional industry tradesmen like carpenters, painters, plumbers, electricians, boilermakers and the like, was a BLF ‘cause celebre’ for years. Norm Gallagher insisted this was a key focus of the union; that is, a builders labourer is not a second class citizen in the industry.

Fire drumWhen the BLF began covering the crew of the tower cranes, as they became widely used, it determined this class of worker deserved due remuneration. Tower cranes were a big technological advancement for the construction industry as the nation developed and built more diverse infrastructure.

Scaffolders and riggers were also given ‘special status’. Enhanced wage rates were fought for. Of course steel fixers and concreters were crucial contributors to the construction process. They too deserved their own wage bracket.

The progressive left politics of the BLF demanded that even the basic builders labourer was skilled at the end of the day and his or her rate was respectfully linked to the hierarchy of wages fought for over the years. These were printed in their thousands and distributed on a regular basis to every BLF member, organisers and shop stewards. A BLF wages sheet was often used as a recruiting tool on the smaller, less organised sites, where more often than not it was the builders labourers who were getting ripped off.

Wider collective industry or site agreements for all building workers were regularly instituted by the BLF. Construction work associated with the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games saw the establishment of the industry’s first Building Industry Agreement (BIA). The concept took off in the proceeding years.

Leaders like Paddy Malone and Norm Gallagher took many social and political issues to the rank and file for their consideration. As communists they encouraged BLF members to take on issues like the injustices inflicted on Aborigines, the US war in Vietnam and the Apartheid system in South Africa.

When conservative governments tried to destroy the original Medibank (now the Medicare system), thousands of builders labourers joined with other unionists and community groups and took to the streets in protest. Yes, the BLF story is worth telling and passing on. However, this is not the end of the bigger story of Australian building workers and their unions.

BLF National Council

REVISITING THE PAST, RENEWING THE PRESENT


Gallagher Wallace

- An interview with Norm Wallace

It is a fact that many Australians are often ignorant of the debt owed by society to trade unions.

Norm Wallace is now 85 years of age and a former official of the Builders Labourers’ Federation (BLF). He regrets the fact that many workers and the general population don’t realize that it has been Australia’s trade unions, that over many years fought for and won so many of the social and working conditions that are now enjoyed but taken for granted , with unions not getting the credit that history should accord them.

One trade union that took a leading part in obtaining and improving the conditions of Australian workers was the Builders Labourer’s Federation. This union for a significant part of its history had a leader named Norm Gallagher.

Today not many people realize that during the 1970s, without a trade union called the Builders Labourers’ Federation (BLF) and its leader Norm Gallagher that Melbourne’s much loved Victoria Market would have been demolished by the developers hammer and lost to the people of the city. Gallagher and the BLF after being asked by members of the public for support also stopped the demolition by developers of a number of other Melbourne historical icons such as the Regent theatre, the Melbourne City Baths, Mac’s Hotel and the Windsor Hotel. Gallagher went to gaol for 13 days because he and the BLF campaigned against development on parkland in the Melbourne suburb of Carlton.

The appropriate placement of commemorative plaques on or near places such as the Victoria Market and the Regent Theatre, would record for now and also posterity, how a union of builders labourers placed
work bans on demolition, that saved these assets for the people of Melbourne. For the best part of 20 years up until 1986, the name of Norm Gallagher was known in every Australian house-hold. Newspapers would have photographs and constantly provide stories of his exploits. Gallagher was famous because he was the militant leader of the BLF. Gallagher was born in the Melbourne suburb of Collingwood on 20 September 1931. Leaving school early, his vocabulary and mode of speech was a product of the street as well as a limited education. This boy who started life without privilege or opportunity, achieved much during his time as a unionist. He became an organiser with the BLF in 1951 and becoming Federal Secretary of the union in 1961, he was later elected as Victorian BLF Secretary in 1970.

Wallace was a BLF official in Victoria from 1961 until 1988. He first met Norm Gallagher in 1950 when he and Gallagher were young members of the BLF Victorian Committee of Management and when the highly respected Paddy Malone was Victorian State Secretary of the BLF. Norm Wallace was forced to finish his employment as the BLF Assistant Secretary in 1988 when the union suffered financial problems because of the loss of membership and revenue following the Deregistration of the BLF, and carve up of its members to other unions.

Wallace says that when Norm Gallagher became an organizer with the BLF in 1952 he was part of a team of officials working in a well organized trade union led by the respected and extremely capable Irish and Communist trade unionist Paddy Malone. In addition to being Federal secretary, Norm Gallagher became Victorian State secretary of the BLF following the death of Paddy Malone in 1970. Early in Gallagher’s career as a BLF organizer he had joined the Communist Party.

Federal Council Mid 60sPerhaps apart from members of Norm Gallagher’s family, there would not be anybody who knew and understood the personality of Gallagher and knows of his achievements as thoroughly or deeply as Norm Wallace. He describes the Norm Gallagher he knew as someone who was smart, strong and courageous who could sometimes have an abrasive personality. These attributes saw him become, and helped propel him along the path to becoming a famous leader of a famous trade union.

Wallace regrets that unfortunately, much of which that has been written of Gallagher has largely ignored his many positive achievements and concentrated only on his flaws. This has left an unfair and unbalanced history, not only of Gallagher but also the BLF. Such a one sided treatment of trade union history has left a largely untold or misunderstood story of the often enormous good that the BLF under Gallagher’s leadership was able to achieve not only for BLF members but for other workers as well.

Gallagher after attaining the federal leadership of the BLF in 1961, with Paddy Malone as his mentor grew in confidence and experience. He saw his then main responsibility as improving the Commonwealth arbitration awards covering wages and conditions of builders labourers throughout the Commonwealth. He also supported and encouraged campaigns throughout the country including Victoria where the BLF under the leadership of Paddy Malone was campaigning to improve the wages, conditions of Victorian builders labourers and other construction workers.

Following the leadership and high standards example set by Paddy Malone, Gallagher’s subsequent industrial campaigns continued to disturb the historic nexus between the wage rates of carpenters and other tradesmen in the construction industry. Builders labourers such as scaffolders, riggers, dogmen, concreters and steelfixers had skills that were still undervalued. Some of the biggest gains in Victoria were made by agreements on behalf of scaffolders. Much to the embarrassment of other construction unions including the tradesmen’s unions, Gallagher’s builders labourers’ pay rates eventually became the benchmark for other construction unions to try and gain increases for their members. The increased rates of pay for crane crews operating lofty cranes on building sites achieved by the BLF and Gallagher became the envy of the construction industry.

Gallagher poemAfter becoming BLF Federal secretary, Gallagher never hid his ambition to make the BLF the dominant union in the Construction industry, but also importantly he wanted protective union coverage for BLF work because of the constant demarcation disputes the BLF was having with the FIA and AWU. Against often strong and fearful opposition from other construction unions, and after making promises not to try and take the work covered by other unions, Gallagher in 1972 succeeded in having the name of the BLF changed to the more potentially expansionary and ambitious Australian Building Construction employees and Builders Labourers’ Federation (ABCE&BLF) Despite the name change the union was still usually referred to as the BLF.(1)

Gallagher was still Victorian and Federal Secretary of the BLF when it lost many members to other construction unions following deregistration as a federal union by the Commonwealth government and by state governments in NSW and Victoria in 1986. Gallagher continued to lead a much smaller BLF until 1991. He died eight years later in 1999. The BLF was finally amalgamated into the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union in 1994.

Wallace speaks of Gallagher as someone who had the capacity to make his share of enemies but whom despite his often rough manner, could be a friend and inspire intense loyalty amongst officials, friends and members of the union. His door was open to people who came into his office with wide ranging worries that were not always industrial in nature. These could include down of luck members who maybe needed jobs or help with legal problems. He would try and render assistance or direct them to where they may find help.

A sign over Gallagher’s office door read: “In any dispute between the worker and the employer, the worker is always right”

The BLF like most trade unions provided free legal advice to members concerning workers compensation usually by arrangement with a firm of Labor lawyers such as Holding Redlich or Slater and Gordon. In addition to this service, under Gallagher’s leadership the BLF was one of the few unions that at the time had a paid official who’s only work was dealing with the personal problems of members and their families as well as assisting with workers compensation.

Gallagher had friends amongst the employers as well as other unions and the general community. The developer Bruno Grollo was an employer who genuinely liked and respected Gallagher despite the BLF leader sometimes giving him a hard time. The well known Catholic priest Father John Brosnan who worked at Pentridge Prison in Melbourne was proud to call Norm Gallagher a friend.

Gallagher knew that he needed a good general staff if the union was to continue being successful. He did not hesitate to employ as organisers for the Vic branch young, militant academics from university who had proven their loyalty to the workers while working as builders labourers. one of them, Jim Bacon from Monash university, was to later become a Labor premier of Tasmania while another Brian Boyd from Latrobe university, became secretary of the Victorian Trades Hall Council. A much admired BLF official who came to the BLF after also studying at Latrobe University was John Cummins.

Cummo Boyd Bacon

Seeing the need to keep abreast of technical advances, Gallagher never hesitated to invest in the latest technology for the BLF office and officials. This involved buying an early computer and an early version of a colour printer. Another initiative that also set the tongues of other building unions wagging, was the installation of two way radios in organizers cars, this was long before the invention of mobile phones and was a great advance in communications for the union.

Norm Wallace recognizes and stresses that it was not only the BLF or builders labourers who won conditions for workers in the construction industry. Over the years since the end of the Second World War, the Victorian building unions have acted together as members of the then Victorian Building trades Federation and the Melbourne (now Victorian) Trades Hall Council Building Industry Group. He also fondly remembers the many individual Plumbers, Carpenters, painters, bricklayers and officials of the various unions who along with builders labourers fought in now forgotten campaigns that yielded the conditions enjoyed by construction workers today.

SUPERANNUATION

In giving due recognition to other unions, Wallace also believes that the often leading and vigorous role of BLF officials that helped win conditions for construction workers should be recognized and appreciated. In particular he refers to the campaign for the winning of superannuation in the construction industry in 1984. This was arguably the most far reaching and important of the BLF and Norm Gallagher’s many industrial achievements. This was because of the flow on effect to other industries where campaigns for superannuation were also in progress. History records that the first union superannuation and industry scheme for members was started by the Storemen and Packers union in 1978. Historically the BLF and the construction industry was not the only union or industry, that fought successfully for the establishment of superannuation. It can however be strongly argued, that the BLF under the leadership of Norm Gallagher played an indispensible role in eventually establishing superannuation for all Australian workers.

It is true that Gallagher originally had doubts about the principle and application of superannuation in the construction industry, but once he and his union made the decision to support it, the BLF with encouragement and a request for help from the ACTU, provided the industrial foot soldiers and most of the muscle and strength amongst building unions
that established superannuation for all building workers.

The ACTU and other unions were able to use the example set particularly by the BLF in the building trades throughout Australia, to help unions and workers campaigning for superannuation in other industries. Eventually by act of parliament in 1992 the then federal Keating Labor government, legislated for all Australian workers to have the equivalent of 3% of wages as superannuation paid for by employer contributions, the payment is now 9%.

Hands off the BLF protestSITE ALLOWANCES

The BLF and construction unions building unions have had a long history over many years of disputes in fighting for extra pay through site allowances. Site allowances were established and based on such things as disabilities suffered by workers, the cost of the projects, the possible geographic isolation of sites and the type of construction such as the Shopping Centre agreement. Frequently site allowances were negotiated by the unions with individual developers and contractors against strong opposition from the Victorian Master Builders Association. Construction workers of today benefit from site allowance payments established by unions and unionists in the past, and which are now paid as part of the Victorian Building agreement.

FARES AND TRAVEL

In 1938 fares were six pence per day if working outside a 12 mile radius of the GPO. If working within the 12 mile radius, the first threepence for fares was paid by the employee. (1)

It would have often been a problem for builders labourers and other construction workers to use public transport whilst travelling to and from work. In the case of builders labourers, they needed to carry and supply their own picks, shovels and hods, when starting and finishing jobs. The only concession from the employer was that builders labourers could sharpen their picks on the job. One can only imagine the nightmare of trying to carry picks, shovels and hods onto sometimes crowded trams, buses, and trains, very few people had cars during this period. Bicycles would have often been used to transport tools. The practice of builders labourers needing to supply their own tools was ended in 1945. (2)

The BLF and other construction unions have waged a never ending campaign since the 1940s, to gradually improve fares and travel allowances paid to construction workers. Up until the election of the Hawke and then the Howard governments, allowances for fares and travel were not taxed. The unions campaigned successfully for the amount of tax to be reimbursed by the employers. Construction workers are one of the few groups of workers who have allowances for fares and travel to work.

MEDIBANK

In 1976 the newly elected Fraser government commenced to dismantle the benefits of Medibank the universal health care system that had been introduced by the Whitlam government in 1975. The BLF and other construction unions stopped work along with all ACTU affiliated unions to defend Medibank. (1)Despite the union campaign, the Fraser government was able to dilute some of the benefits of Medibank. The unions continued campaign to restore the benefits of Medibank was successful when the Hawke Labor Government was elected in 1983 and restored the benefits of Medibank under the revised name of Medicare. The union campaign to save and restore a universal health care system for all Australians is another example of the benefits received by society generally as a result of trade unions.

INCLEMENT WEATHER

Most construction workers for the first time had an award provision that provided an entitlement of eight hours per month payment for inclement weather in 1945 (1). In 1963 against union opposition, the employers successfully applied to the Arbitration Court to have the entitlement changed from inclement to rain only (2). This meant no lost time payment if workers stopped work because of heat, high winds, severe dust or cold. Led by the BLF and the other construction unions, many disputes erupted on jobs over time lost for other than rain. In a landmark dispute Wallace recalls workers employed by Lewis Construction stopping work when the temperature had reached 108 degrees Fahrenheit (42 degrees Celsius). After Lewis construction refused to pay for the time lost the workers stopped work for two days. Lewis Construction was forced to agree to pay for the day lost and to pay future claims for time lost because of heat. The builders labourers, carpenters and other workers didn’t demand payment for the days they were on strike from Lewis Construction, declaring that they had gone on strike for a principle and they had won. It took until 1966 and after many disputes for the unions and workers to be successful in restoring the pre 1963 broader inclement weather entitlement in the award. (3)

AMENITIES

In 1945 the employer did not need to provide change sheds unless there were more than 15 workers on site (1). By 1959 the employer was forced by the award to supply change sheds if more than 10 workers were employed. (2)

Norm Wallace stresses the often leading role of BLF officials in organizing improved amenities following the end of the Second World War and during the 1950-1960s when even the best amenities to be found on construction jobs though perhaps satisfactory, would not come close to the quality of amenities later won by unions and which became award entitlements and also provisions of the Victorian Building Industry Agreement (3). In Victoria during the 1950s, the Mobil refinery in Altona, the APM in Fairfield, and the Housing Commission of Victoria, were examples of larger work sites that had a strong union presence where the workers were able to get agreement to provide decent amenities. By the 1960s, amenities for workers had generally improved and examples of this were the new Melbourne high rise buildings such as Nauru House, Collins Place and the BHP building.

Many times on smaller and isolated sites, amenities could be almost non-existent unless the unions forced them to be provided. Proper toilets were not always available though they were a legal obligation to be supplied by the employer. Usually no toilet paper was supplied, some bosses arguing that “if toilet paper was supplied that the workers would probably pinch it”. Norm Wallace remembers how an over flowing toilet that had belonged to a demolished house, was being used as the site convenience for a block of flats. After the boss and the workers refused to do anything about it, Norm Wallace was forced to bring in the local health inspector who closed down the job until the toilet was unblocked. Often meals and smokos’ were taken in the open despite an award provision that stipulated that a shed needed to be provided. Unions often had to argue that the employer should not use a crib shed for the storage of building materials such as cement. A 1960s campaign was that mess sheds should be separate from change sheds. It was often a battle to have a “Billy Boy” now called a Peggy to make sure that there was hot water for smoko’s and that toilets were cleaned.

DELAYED WORKERS COMPENSATION PAYMENTS

A big worry to construction and other workers was that it was possible for an injured or ill worker to wait at home without pay for maybe months at a time before his workers compensation payments arrived. It sometimes happened that workers had returned to work before they were paid their compo entitlements. To overcome this problem, a demand was placed on the building employers to pay the wages on the next pay day after it was agreed or obvious that a worker had suffered a work related injury or illness. The campaign involved closing down jobs if the employer failed to make these immediate payments to the worker. The employers were able to recoup their payments from the insurance company later.

COMPENSATION MAKE UP

Compensation make up to full wages had been a long standing claim by unions in many industries .This was caused because the amounts that insurance companies paid to workers on compensation was less than normal wage rates. It was bad enough for a worker to suffer the effects of a workplace injury without also suffering the loss of some of his take home pay as well. An industry wide campaign was successful in 1974 in getting agreement that when a worker went on compensation he would not suffer any loss of wages as a result for an up to six months period. This period of make up has since been extended to two years for workers covered by the Victorian Building Industry Agreement.

PAID SICK LEAVE

Important conditions won by the BLF and other construction unions included conditions such as paid sick leave, introduced in 1975. Prior to the winning of this important condition construction workers had a loading in their hourly rate for sick leave. This was OK if workers were not sick, but when they were, they never received any pay for the time that they had off. When the unions won paid sick leave they also continued to receive the sick leave loading. (1)

PORTABILITY OF SICK LEAVE

The first negotiated agreement for portability of sick leave was in an agreement the BLF obtained with scaffolding companies in 1970, while portability of sick leave was not achieved for all construction workers until 1996. Workers sick leave is financed by contributions from the employers and is now accumulated, controlled, and dispensed by the redundancy fund Incolink. (1)

PAID PUBLIC HOLIDAYS

As with sick leave, payment for public holidays was included in the weekly wage as a loading while public holidays were observed without payment. Half payment for observed public holidays was won in 1971 (1), full payment was achieved in 1972.(2).The winning of paid public holidays also saw the retention of the public holiday loading in the wage rate.

Going up!PORTABILITY OF LONG SERVICE LEAVE

Portability of long service leave was won by the construction unions in 1976 after a vigorous campaign over many years .Prior to this very few construction workers enjoyed long service leave because they very rarely could accumulate sufficient time with the one employer. Now employers contribute to a central fund that pays for an employee’s long service as it accumulates in the industry, not just with one employer. 1)

SUPPLY OF CLOTHING AND FOOTWEAR

In the early 1970s, BLF members constructing the west side of Melbourne’s West Gate bridge and FIA members working on the east side, were the first workers in Australia to win Bluey jackets on construction as part of an industrial agreement. Tommy Watson, now a CFMEU official recalls another claim was for the supply of safety boots. Following strike action, the bridge contractor and The Metal Trades Industry Association offered to pay for one boot if the workers were prepared to pay for the other one. Jimmy O’Neil a then well known Metal workers union official, told a meeting that “the offer would be a total victory if there were any one legged workers on the bridge”. Amongst the earliest successes in campaigns for supply of clothing and footwear was getting employers to supply rubber boots and gloves (1), steel capped safety boots came later (2).

SEVERENCE PAY

A campaign by Victorian building construction workers to receive severance pay was won and introduced in Victoria in 1987. In 1989 the Victorian unions and employers formed Incolink to administer and invest the accumulated severance funds for the benefit of construction workers. (1) The Incolink fund now provides payments during periods of unemployment and if accrued, upon retirement. Some other Incolink entitlements are free Accident Insurance and ambulance. The fund also provides grants to the construction industry for health and safety projects and assists the running of the Building Industry Disputes Board. The original employer payment for severance in Victoria to construction workers was $20 per week. In July 2011 the severance payment had grown to $66.40. Following the Victorian example, severance schemes also exist for construction workers in other states. (1)

HEALTH AND SAFETY

Every worker on construction knows that no issue is more important than having a safe workplace in what is generally a very dangerous industry. The many years that Wallace spent as a worker and an official with the BLF, saw a lot of his time being spent on checking sites and regularly arguing with employers over health and safety. His recollections of those years as a worker and union official are littered with memories of accidents where workers were killed and sometimes badly injured. As is still the case, bad backs were common and the naturally hard work of builders labourers often led to wear and tear and forced early retirement from the industry. Builders labourers and other workers suffered illnesses caused by the often misguided use of chemicals such as lead in paint the criminal use of products containing asbestos. The worst industrial accident in his experience was in November 1970 when the West Gate Bridge collapsed killing 35 workers and injuring others. Another bad accident in Melbourne that caused the deaths of three workers was when a lofty crane collapsed in 1961 during construction of the Colonial Mutual building in Collins street Melbourne. (1) Importantly, the BLF appointed the union movement’s first National Asbestos Safety Officer in 1982, Brian Boyd.

MAN HOISTS

Agitation by construction unions for the installation of man hoists on health and safety grounds led to many disputes. Before the practice of carrying Hods was banned, builders labourers carrying a Hod of bricks on their shoulders were one group always at great risk of injury, because of the lack of man and materials hoists. A Hod carrying labourer was expected to climb ladders while carrying 12 bricks perhaps weighing 48 kilos up to 15 feet (4.65 metres) and 10 bricks weighing up to 40 kilos to any height above 15 feet (1). Employers often saw the need for materials hoists before man hoists, mainly because of cost considerations. Prior to the introduction of scaffolding stairs in the 1970s, sites without man hoists had access by ladders only. In the late 1960s, unions reached agreement that man hoists would be supplied on buildings of five or more floors. This could still have problems if the building was steel framed and could only be plumbed when the building frame was well advanced. Norm Wallace recalls a 14 floor steel framed building during the 1960s that only had ladder access for workers. Carpenters for example while climbing ladders, had to carry tool boxes to where they were working, this they did with great difficulty risk and physical effort. To improve safety, constant arguments occurred about the type of ladders to be used while demands were consistently made, for the installation of man hoists. While man hoists are now widely used, arguments with employers to install man hoists can still be an ongoing problem.

HARD HATS

Hard hats were first used and supplied on Victorian construction in the 1950s, during construction of the Mobil oil refinery In Altona. They were in general use on Victorian construction sites by the end of the 1960s. Hard hats have been one of the most important improvements to health and safety in the construction industry, but time was needed to convince and educate many workers that it was in their best interests to wear them.

JOB HEALTH AND SAFETY REPRESENTATIVES

Though some employers employed health and safety officers, the BLF and other unions have always demanded that delegates and job safety committees that existed on the larger jobs, should have the final say and main responsibility to look after health and safety. Other bodies concerned with health and safety on construction but which were not proactive in policing sites, were the Victorian State Government Lifts and Cranes Department, while local Councils had responsibility for providing scaffolding and building inspectors as well as health inspectors.

LEGISLATION

Under the influence of the unions, the Victorian Labor government in 1985 passed new and more comprehensive legislation dealing with workplace health and safety. The legislation included the formation of the Government Health and Safety inspectorate Workcover now known as Worksafe. (1) Parts of the legislation were met with fierce opposition from the employers, particularly the section that allowed health and safety reps to be selected from among the workers on individual jobs. The improved legislation covering safety in the workplace also impacted on important matters such as the handling of asbestos, protection while working at heights, limitations on weights that could be lifted or handled, traffic management, working under or near power lines, the safe operation and maintenance of cranes and mechanical equipment. Unfortunately as everybody knows, the existence of legislation and consistent vigilance, doesn’t always guarantee a safe workplace. Therefore the construction unions still need to spend time and effort on health and safety. This includes the CFMEU’S formation of a modern training unit that runs instruction classes on workplace health and safety as well as skill development for Victorian union members. (1 – Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Victoria)

IN CONCLUSION

Norm Wallace has retraced and listed many of the gains won by construction workers since the end of the Second World War. Though now in retirement, he has a continuing interest in trade unions in particular the CFMEU into which the genes of his union the BLF and other construction unions have been passed because of amalgamation. He appreciates that the CFMEU since its formation in 1993, has successfully operated as a trade union that has proven a worthy heir to the traditions of the past.

REFERENCES:

“It is a fact that many Australians are ignorant of the debt owed by society to trade unions”

(1) Commonwealth Arbitration Reports Vol 146 1972 – pp 1052-1054 R - no 200 of 1970 R – no 145 of 1972)

“FARES AND TRAVEL”

(1) Victorian Government Gazette no 355 Dec 2 1938) (2)Victorian Government Gazette no 182 Thursday

Aug 18 1938.) (Victorian Government Gazette no 168 Tues Dec 18 1945)

“MEDIBANK”

(1) Green Left Weekly Wed October 14 1988

“INCLEMENT WEATHER”

(1) Victorian Government Gazette no 168 Tues Dec 18 1945

(2) Dept of Labour & Industry Victoria Determination, Builders Labourers’ Board no 2 1963

(3) Determination Builders Labourers’ Industrial Appeals Court Friday 22 July 1966

“AMENITIES”

(1) Victorian Government Gazette no 168 Tues Dec 18 1945

(2) Commonwealth Arbitration Reports Dec-June 1958-59 Page 183 - Amenities Clause 32

(3) 3-Building Construction Employees and Builders Labourers’ award 1978 Amenities - Clause 34

“DELAYED WORKERS COMPENSATION PAYMENTS”

( 1) Clause 29 BCE@BLA award 1982

“COMPENSATION MAKE UP”

(1) Clause 29 - BCE@BLA award 1982

“PAID SICK LEAVE”

(1) Clause 28 BCE@BLA award 1982

“PORTABILITY OF SICK LEAVE”

(1) Incolink Victoria website

“PAID PUBLIC HOLIDAYS”

(1) - Department of Labour and Industry -Determination of The Builders Labourers Federation no

4 of 1971)(2-Department of Labour and Industry-Determination of the Builders Labourers Board

no 1 of 1972)

BLF street march“PORTABILITY OF LONG SERVICE LEAVE”

(1) Construction Industry Long Service Leave

Board of Victoria

“SUPPLY OF CLOTHING AND FOOTWEAR”

(1) CAR Dec 1958-59 page 183 Clause 31

(2) (2 - Clause 36 BCE@BLA 1982

“SEVERENCE PAY”

(1) Incolink Victoria website

“HEALTH AND SAFETY”

(1) www.emelbourne.net.au - Industrial

accidents

“MAN HOISTS” (1) Victorian Government

Gazette no 168 Tues Dec 18 1945

“LEGISLATION” (1) Victorian Government

Workplace Health and Safety act 1985– OHS

Act 2004 (Victoria)


RECOLLECTIONS “…NORM GALLAGHER WAS IN THE VANGUARD”