Pressure is increasing on plastics manufacture Kemalex and its Managing Director Richard Colebatch to drop the companys plans to push low-paid production workers at its factory in Dandenong Victoria onto a sham independent contractors scheme.

In response to calls from ACTU Secretary Greg Combet for the Federal Government to oppose the companys plans a spokesperson for Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews last night told on-line newsletter Workforce Daily that the Government was investigating the issue and was considering referring the Kemalex case for prosecution.

About 60 mostly women production workers at Kemalex who are members of the National Union of Workers have been on strike for almost two weeks over the companys plans to make all its production workers become independent contractors.

Under the companys plans workers at the factory, currently paid just $12.60 an hour, would no longer be company employees. Instead they would be required to get their own Australian Business Number (ABN) and contract their labour back to the company as independent small businesses. While still required to report to work every day and work as directed, under the sham independent contractor arrangements proposed by the company the workers would lose their rights to sick leave; holiday pay; family leave; maternity leave; the 9% employer superannuation contribution; protection from unfair dismissal; redundancy pay; overtime and shift penalties.

If the Federal Government has any sense of decency or respect for the basic rights of people at work then they should prosecute Kemelex for what it is trying to do to these workers. If the Government is serious about bringing this company to account and prosecuting them then we will provide whatever assistance we can, said ACTU Secretary Greg Combet.

As revealed on the ABCs 7:30 Report last night since going on strike the workers at Kemalex have been intimidated by company representatives visiting their homes at night to serve threatening letters on the workers and their families. Late last week a group of 18 motor-cycle bikers wearing helmets and bandanas to conceal their faces was also used to break the womens picket outside the factory.

ACTU Secretary Greg Combet said,

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 just 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 most basic rights and entitlements at work.

This is a sham, which should not be allowed to happen. But I fear we are going to see a lot more of this sort of things after the Federal Government takes control of the Senate on July 1 and introduces its new industrial relations laws. The Federal Government has said it wants to introduce a new Independent Contractors Act that would make it easier for ordinary employees to be moved onto these sham independent contractor schemes.

Instead of just listening to big business we are calling on the Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews to make it clear that he opposes these sham independent contracting arrangements and come out to Dandenong and talk to these workers at Kemalex and find out what his laws are doing to them and their families.