Knauf refuses to provide acceptable working conditions and locks out workers

Workers at the Knauf ort Melbourne picket

Contributed from Victoria

Knauf is a major multinational group of companies headquartered in Germany and operating around the world. Its subsidiary in Australia is involved in the manufacture of a range of building products. On 26 August 2019, it took over Boral a well-known brand name in Australia.  

Today’s news is that management has locked out the workforce at its plasterboard plant at Port Melbourne.

The reason? A refusal to agree to a new enterprise agreement that will address workers concerns over safety on the job, deliver a wage a 6 percent rise in line with community standards and just below the rate of inflation, and turn away from the use of labour hire companies to undermine permanent jobs.

But it is exposure to lung cancer causing silica dust that is of the greate4st concern to the workers. Their union, the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU) has recently circulated photographs of and video footage of the assembly line in the plant, thickly coated with the dust of the dangerous mineral.  

Knauf does not even provide a laundry service to clean contaminated workwear. This must be washed at home, which takes the risk home to families.

Failure to reach an agreement led to sudden short walk offs starting from 12 September. This is what prompted management to apply the lock out. The dispute is now entrenched and set to go on for some time.

On offer is a 4 percent wage rise over the next 4 years. There is nothing to improve safety or stopping the use of labour hire. This is unacceptable to the workers. They have set up a daytime picket outside the factory at 47 Turner Street in Fishermans Bend.

The Victorian /trades Hall Council and the CFMMEU has organised an online support fund, to which people can make donations to help the locked out workers get by.

It’s not as if Knauf has been doing it tough. A plasterboard shortage means that business has been booming. Even if this wasn’t true, it is reasonable to expect management to treat its workforce with decency, something that has been missing in this case.

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