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Queensland workers vindicated in Bechtel court action

Workers employed by US construction giant Bechtel have had their leave cancellations on the day of a rally against the China Australia Free Trade Agreement reversed as the result of court action taken by the Electrical Trades Union today.

The Electrical Trades Union filed papers in Brisbane on Wednesday challenging the decision by Bechtel’s Gladstone LNG construction site to prevent its workers attending a local rally – one of several to be held across Australia – today.

The claim lodged in the Federal Circuit Court alleged that the company’s decision to place a blanket ban on employee leave on the day of a union-organised protest against the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement violated the general protections provisions of the Fair Work Act.

In a statement read into the court record, Bechtel agreed to remove the ban on leave and to approve the leave of all workers who had requested it for the day of the rally, provided they had leave available and their presence was not crucial to the operation of the project.

It is understood that more than 250 workers submitted applications by the deadline.

The decision served as a warning to employers who might seek to curtail their workers’ activities outside of work, Electrical Trades Union national secretary Allen Hicks said.

“It is disgraceful that we had to pursue legal action to prevent a company interfering with the basic democratic freedoms of its workers,” he said.

“This has put companies on notice that they cannot prevent their employees from taking lawful action in their own time to protest on an issue that affects the lives and livelihoods of millions of working Australians.”

The leave ban first came to light as the result of a leaked email from a senior Bechtel manager instructing all supervisors not to approve leave on the day of the rally, saying it was an activity that Bechtel did not “sanction or authorise”.

The rally, on Monday August 17, is one of a series of events around the country that highlight the threat to Australian jobs, safe working standards, and skill levels that the agreement represents.

“I look forward to gathering with Bechtel workers and others around the Gladstone area to talk about this sub-standard agreement and the threat that it represents to our living standards,” Mr Hicks said.

The substantive matters of the case will be heard on August 24.

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