29 July, 2012
When Dean Hutchinson looked up from his tools, a piece of wood about 30 centimetres long smacked into his temple.
The strongly built labourer fell to the ground and the laughter of his workmates washed over him. Mr Hutchinson, 21, felt dazed from the incident, which happened last month, and could not see straight, but pretended to keep working. Later, he vomited.
The claims by Mr Hutchinson of workplace bullying at a Sunbury company that makes building frames have been described by a senior union leader as the most serious he has seen.
In interviews with The Age Mr Hutchinson has alleged:
- A supervisor regularly fired a nail gun at staff and pretended to fire a nail gun at close range, without saying it was empty.
- Mr Hutchinson had his thumb broken and a wrist broken in two places in a machine, two weeks after warning his boss that it was dangerous.
- He had his pay docked after taking to hospital a colleague who had shot himself in the leg with a nail gun.
- The supervisor would throw wood or hard cardboard at staff nearly every day.
- No fans were provided in summer and staff were banned from bringing their own fans as it would use electricity.
- No safety gear or glasses were provided. Mr Hutchinson's tools were covered in sap by a supervisor and would be stolen and hidden.
- Staff were forced to pay inflated rates for safety equipment from the boss, Danny Schneider, including as much as $8 for a pencil.
- Pay was regularly docked for taking too long on a task, or cleaning tools, and Mr Hutchinson and other staff were regularly abused.
- Staff were warned not to join a union.
Sources have confirmed key parts of the account, but Mr Schneider, the co-owner of Sunbury Wall Frames & Trusses, said he completely rejected all the allegations.
There are also claims that letters sent to the homes of at least four workers by the Australian Electoral Commission were ripped open or tampered with. They included ballot papers on whether to have an enterprise agreement at the workplace.
On April 6, the day after nine staff signed a ballot asking for a union agreement, six of the same people signed another petition rejecting an agreement. The second petition was signed by Rob Guthrie, the Macedon Ranges mayor, who wrote that there was no coercion from the boss. He did not disclose that he was also an employee of the firm but defended this later, saying he wanted to give it as much credibility as he could by signing as a councillor.
The company this week won that ballot six votes to three with four employees not voting.
Mr Schneider, who is being represented by the Victorian Employers Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that Gisborne police had told him they had no record of an alleged