Hundreds of families in a small north-east Victorian town have been without pay for almost 10 weeks, after the area’s biggest employer locked out its entire workforce. Source: The Sydney Morning Herald
Nestled in the middle of the state’s picturesque alpine ranges, Myrtleford is now in the depths of winter, with the mercury often dipping below one degree.
Locals say some families have reached the point that they cannot afford to turn on their heating.
On April 19, union members at Myrtleford’s Carter Holt Harvey timber mill walked off work for four hours, after industrial talks stalled. In response, the company locked out is workforce of 207, including casual staff.
The action has left 60 non-union members without any income for more than two months. Union members are also without pay but are getting some financial support.
The mill is the town’s major employer and the lockout has taken a toll on the local economy.
Carly Montgomery’s partner is a non-union member, and she said there were at least 38 families like hers without any financial help.
“There’s a lot of families that are really in very dire straits right now,” she said. “A lot of them are getting angry; they want to go back to work. They’re ringing the bank to hold off on mortgage payments, they’re ringing their electricity supplier and making a payment plan.”
Ms Montgomery started a food drive last month, after she realised the lockout was not coming to an end any time soon.
Her garage is now stockpiled full of cereal boxes, tinned food, frozen meat, toilet paper and other non-perishables, donated by supermarkets, community groups and generous Myrtleford residents. Each day people visit to receive a box filled with necessities.
“It was myself and two other couples both in the same boat, all non-union members, and we didn’t think it would last nine weeks,” Ms Montgomery said.
“We started out cooking a few stews and soups, for seven or eight families, and now we’re at 38 boxes that went out last week.
“The families are doing it tougher now as the days and nights get bitterly cold, they don’t even want to use heating for the cost factor.”
Alpine Shire Council Mayor Ron Janas said: “That’s the type of caring community that we have”.
“We’re trying to support our community in the best way we can,” he said.
“It’s not a common set of circumstances that we find ourselves in where there are people with hardships like this, and it’s been so protracted.”
Several Myrtleford small businesses have been forced to lay off staff due to a collapse in spending.
Ms Montgomery said one bakery was down “more than $20,000” from the same time last year.
“I know this town is better than what’s happening right now,” she said.
“The town deserves to be backed by the people that are here and the workers deserve it.”
The unions representing the workers want a 3% pay rise annually over three years, seven days’ annual leave over Christmas and better access to income-protection insurance. They voted down the company’s latest enterprise agreement in a secret ballot on June 8 and 9.
There are hopes that the lockout will come to an end soon, and CFMEU members say they will be waiting at the gates of the mill on Monday morning, ready to go back to work and end the lockout.
Another secret ballot has been organised for workers this weekend.
Federal Member for Indi Cathy McGowan delivered a letter requesting help to end the stalemate to Employment Minister Michaelia Cash and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten on Wednesday.
Carter Holt Harvey was contacted for comment.
Those interested in donating to the cause can visit Ms Montgomery’s GoFundMe website.