The Guardian 15 June, 2005

Kemalex a trial run for new IR laws

On June 15 a solidarity group of women will make a journey from the Victorian Trades Hall to the Kemalex plastics factory in Dandenong where 70 workers have been on strike and maintained a picket line for five weeks. They are fighting to keep their enterprise bargaining agreement against an attempt by management to force them into an independent contractor arrangement.

The workers, members of the National Union of Workers and the Australian Services Union, began their action on April 27 after the company introduced its plan to effectively convert each of the workers into a small business.

Under the company’s plan workers at the factory, most of whom are women, would no longer be employees of the company. Instead, they would be required to get their own Australian Business Number and contract their labour back to the company as "independent" small businesses.

While still required to turn up at to work every day and work under the direction of management, the sham independent contractor arrangements would take away the workers’ rights to sick leave, holiday pay, family leave, maternity leave, their nine percent employer superannuation contribution, protection from unfair dismissal, redundancy pay, overtime payments and shift penalties.

Since the workers went on strike, company representatives have attempted to intimidate them by visiting their homes at night to serve threatening letters on them and their families.

When this failed to intimidate the striking workers, a group of 18 motorcycle bikers wearing helmets and bandanas to conceal their faces was used in an attempt to break the picket outside the factory.

With the Howard government on the threshold of gaining absolute control of both houses of parliament, employers are wasting no time in launching attacks on workers’ rights.

In solidarity, the General Vice-President of the CFMEU’s Mining and Energy Division, Reg Coates, visited the picket line on behalf of his union. "There is no doubt that this company has been motivated in its attack by the Howard government", said Mr Coates.

"These are ordinary hard working Australian employees. They are on low wages. They have families to support and like many working Australians are already struggling to keep their heads above water.

"If that is not hard enough, now their employer is trying to use a legal loophole to deny them even their basic rights and entitlements at work."

Mr Coates warned that the government intends to introduce a new Independent Contractors Act that would make it easier for ordinary employees to be moved onto the contracts being pushed at Kemalex.

"It is absolutely vital that the trade union movement stands together in solidarity to support workers subjected to these attacks and our union is proud to be part of the Kemalex workers’ struggle", he said.

"What the bosses and the Howard government are attempting to force on them today, they will try on us tomorrow."

Common Cause, journal of the Mining Division of the CFMEU

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