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Ben Schneiders
April 3, 2009

UNIONS have been warned they face potential financial ruin and nearly $10 million in fines and damages over an industrial dispute at the West Gate Bridge that has included allegations of violence, sabotage and breaches of the Trade Practices Act.

The industrial action has resulted in little work being done on the upgrade of the bridge in the past two months amid fears the project faces costly delays.

Contractor John Holland, in a letter obtained by The Age, has warned senior officials of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union to stop their “current unlawful conduct” or face potential ruin.

The long list of allegations of threatening behaviour contained in the letter from Stephen Sasse, John Holland’s human resources boss, included two incidents on Monday.

In one, an Australian Building and Construction Commission car, with two inspectors inside, was allegedly damaged.

In the other incident, picketers allegedly threatened staff outside John Holland’s Port Melbourne office.

Unions have blamed John Holland for causing the dispute after a labour hire firm engaged by the company agreed to a pay rate that John Holland would not accept, resulting in the loss of more than 30 jobs.

The dispute has centred on what sort of industrial agreement should cover the project: a civil construction or a more expensive “mixed metals” agreement, which pays as much as $10 an hour more.

There has also been disagreement between unions on the project.

John Holland said it was considering taking contempt proceedings, on top of the injunctions it has already received from the Federal Court. In its letter, it claimed:

■There had been about 65 breaches of the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act at the site and unions were “exposed” to penalties, so far, of $7 million; and that

■Unions had breached the Trade Practices Act over an alleged secondary boycott, with potential fines of $750,000 after claims a contractor was told not to work on the project.

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