The Guardian 23 November, 2005

Greed drives Kemalex boss

A boss who shut down his factory after a ten-week strike has lashed out at his largely female former workforce for putting on weight and not being "work hardened".

"You’ve got to understand, they were all sitting on their arses for ten weeks with nothing to do. They all put on 5kg when they came back to work on these machines they weren’t work hardened", Kemalex Plastics owner Richard Colebatch told The Australian newspaper this week.

Colebatch, who refused to negotiate with workers at his Dandenong factory for six weeks during the strike, told the National Union of Workers, "I only answer to two people, my mother and my wife".

The protracted dispute featured bikie gangs intimidating the worker’s peaceful assembly, yet Colebatch claimed he was the victim of "union thugs" and "vandalism".

The National Union of Workers (NUW) says they strenuously attempted to avoid a strike but Colebatch was motivated by "ideological" reasons, and was unwilling to negotiate during the strike, which involved women who were, in some cases, being paid less than the award minimum.

Colebatch had offered workers a pay rise conditional on them giving up meal breaks.

The union’s Victorian Assistant Secretary Anthony Thow says Colebatch has been caught out telling porkies with his claims that unions had OK’d the use of individual contractors.

"The use of contractors was never negotiated or approved by the union. When they arrived on site it came as a shock", said Mr Thow. "He said words to the effect that people work better when they’re under pressure and that independent contractors don’t have sick leave."

Mr Thow is appalled at Colebatch’s attitude, especially after the factory owner had previously praised the union during a period of administration when unions co-operated to help secure the future of the Dandenong business. The union also worked with Colebatch at the resolution of the ten-week strike to "clear the air" following the dispute.

"For someone who claims to want flexibility he had a remarkably bureaucratic approach during negotiations", he noted. "Every word had to ticked off by his barrister, solicitor, company board and a ‘mythical’ advisory board.

"So we were dealing with three or four tiers of decision making.

"In the current situation you can only speculate as to who his ‘advisory board’ is."

Colebatch’s Adelaide business treats all employees as independent contractors.

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