SMH 16.6.11, AAP
Thousands of furious public sector workers have descended on Sydney's CBD, blocking off the street as they gather outside NSW Parliament House.
Nurses, police, firefighters and other frontline workers stopped worked today to attend the rally, turning Macquarie Street into a sea of flags and banners.
A group of at least 6000 people chanted "Back off Barry" and "Two, four, six eight, Barry O'Farrell you have no mandate".
Advertisement: Story continues below They were also holding banners that read: "Barry O'Farrell workers' rights are human rights".
Earlier, NSW president of the Fire Bridge Employees union, Darin Sullivan, addressed hundreds of firefighters from the top of a fire truck outside St Mary's Cathedral.
"We don't take this sort of action often," he told the gathering.
"We've left ourselves a lot of room to escalate should we need to, this is just the first step."
Organisers revised the number of protesters upwards to 1200 shortly before 12.25pm.
Their ranks were swollen by stonemasons, port workers and other public sector employees who marched from the Opera House.
Premier Barry O'Farrell's controversial industrial relations changes are expected to be debated by the lower house this week, possibly as early as tonight, after they were passed by the NSW upper house yesterday.
Politicians, mayors and possibly magistrates could also have their pay rises capped at 2.5 per cent, as the government attempts to dilute criticism of its crackdown on the wages of nurses, teachers and firefighters.
The government bill strips the NSW Industrial Relations Commission of its powers to set wages and conditions for all frontline public servants.
The mostly male group marching from the Opera House were carrying red and while CFMEU banners and yelling: "What do we want, fair wages, when do we want it, now!"
Paul Connell from Public Works NSW said the conditions under the government's bill, which is set to be rubber stamped by the Coalition-controlled lower house, would not keep up with the cost of living.
"It doesn't keep up with the cost of living which more around 4 per cent and we can't argue for anything more than 2½ per cent," he said.
Mr Connell said without the avenue of Industrial Relations Commission, it would be harder to protect workers' current conditions.
"They are already going after family, community services leave," he said.
Mr Connell is concerned that the changes would make it harder to attract new stone workers to a craft that has already seen its numbers decline.
"There's a limited supply of stonemasons as there is, we find it very difficult to get stonemasons and these changes don't create any sort of incentive for people to work with the NSW government."
The stonemasons and port workers' march was one of several to State Parliament.
Speaking on the sidelines, Unions NSW secretary Mark Lennon said the NSW government should listen to the thousands of workers rallying and "withdraw" the legislation.
"You can see from the turnout here today that there is a lot of anger out there," he said.
"We've already filled Macquarie Street, this shows how upset and outraged the public sector workforce is about this proposed legislation."
Mr Lennon said the ball was in the government's court.
"The government still has the opportunity to rethink this legislation and withdraw it," he said.
Rain failed to dampen the spirits of the workers, who continued to chant and cheer.
Unions NSW president Marilyn Issanchon spoke to the crowd as the rain pelted down.
"No one is going to rain on our parade," she said to cheers.
"We will fight for our rights at work."
She thanked workers for coming from as far as Dubbo and the Riverina.
"The whole of NSW is represented here today," Ms Issanchon said.
Addressing the swelling crowd on Macquarie Street, ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence raised the unions' successful Your Rights at Work campaign, which led to the death of the Howard government's unpopular WorkChoices laws.
"Five minutes after being elected into government, without a hint to the electorate who voted them in only three months ago, the O'Farrell Liberal government has waged an attack on workers the likes of which we haven't seen since WorkChoices," he told the rowdy crowd.
"We are standing together today because these laws are so wrong. It's in the interests if every working person in Australia to see them gone.
"We can't allow these laws to be passed, and if they are, we've got to continue to fight to get rid of them.
"Every member of Parliament who votes for them today or tomorrow must be held to account."
Mr Lawrence called on federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to lobby his NSW counterpart Mr O'Farrell to scrap the public sector wage changes.
"Tony Abbott thinks he doesn't have to take a stand, he thinks he can hide behind the fact that this is a state issue," Mr Lawrence said.
"I challenge Tony Abbott today to tell Barry O'Farrell to get rid of these laws, and if he doesn't you can only conclude that this is a template for what a coalition government would do federally if it gets half a chance."
Mr Lennon ended the rally by reading out letters of support from union movements in Western Australia and the United States.
He thanked the crowd for their attendance saying it was the biggest worker rally on Macquarie Street "in over 20 years".
Mr Lennon urged workers to continue their efforts until legislation was repealed.
"People have questioned what level of concern there is about these laws," he said.
"Well there's no question today."
He warned that future action would follow, saying "this is not the first time our movement has come under attack".
The workers joined in song to mark the end of the protest, singing in unison "we shall not be moved".