Knauf workers stand firm and show how to win

Workers at the Knauf plant in Fishermans Bend in Melbourne have returned to work triumphant after almost two months of strikes and lockouts.

The 60 or so workers, members of the Construction, Forestry, Mining, Maritime and Energy Union (CFMMEU), were demanding a 6 per cent wage increase, 12 per cent super contributions from Knauf, double time on Saturdays and a halt to the expansion of labour hire.

They won almost everything, falling just short on pay.

Their first pay rise will be 5 per cent for the first year followed by 4 per cent each for the next three years, plus back pay from 1 July. Workers also won:

  • all overtime at double time
  • penalty rates up by 7.5 per cent
  • an income protection scheme
  • improved staffing levels
  • union training.

They also won a laundry allowance which, as one worker wrote, is “important for a workforce which works all day in dust, often containing chemical additives which workers don’t want to take home to their family”.

CFMMEU national secretary Christy Cain praised the Knauf workers. “The membership didn’t blink.”

The workers, who make stone products and plasterboard for the construction industry, marched back into work at 6am on 26 October after 40 days of being locked out, welcomed by a guard of honour of other CFMMEU members.

They had struck on 7 September, with management responding with a lockout on 15 September.

The picket line was well attended and lively with support from a range of unions including ETU, PPTEU, AMWU, MUA and others.

While the pay rise is below inflation, the workers returned full of confidence.

Their willingness to fight shows that struggle pays. Other workers should learn from their example.

By David Glanz

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