For the first time in Australian history workers face having their cars or homes seized for failing to pay fines for an unlawful strike after industrial action at a Woodside gas operation.
Search and seizure orders are being served on 33 WA construction workers who failed to pay record fines of up to $10,000 each for an eight-day strike on the Woodside liquefied natural gas expansion project in the Pilbara in October 2008.
The tough measure comes with a warning from the industry watchdog - Fair Work Building and Construction - that it will not hesitate to enforce penalties and return the rule of law to the industry.
Fines totalling more than $680,000 were levied against 117 workers employed by CBI Construction by the Federal Court in September last year.
FWBC director Nigel Hadgkiss said the agency had collected about $488,000, with 33 workers responsible for the outstanding $196,000. Bailiffs have started executing orders for those who have property, which will be confiscated and sold to pay the fines and associated costs.
"Where we have been able to identify property, most commonly cars and houses, we have filed and served property search and seizure orders," Mr Hadgkiss said. "Where we could not identify property we are going to require those workers to attend means examination in the Federal Court."
A spokesman for the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union lashed out at the FWBC, claiming the fines were out of proportion to the action.
"These fines highlight the (watchdog) has nothing to do with industrial fairness or productivity and everything to do with intimidating workers into not standing up for their rights," he said.
Justice John Gilmour said the stoppage was unlawful and caused significant economic losses and project delays.
Mr Hadgkiss was reinstated to the watchdog last year, after previously serving in the agency during the Howard government.
His return signals the Abbott Government's bid to crack down on the construction sector.