Unions declare war on Premier
Alexandra Smith, smh
June 13, 2011
Them's fighting words ... unions representing nurses, teachers, firefighters and other public sector workers are preparing to launch a campaign against Premier Barry O'Farrell's wage reforms.
THE national union movement has thrown its weight behind a campaign against Barry O'Farrell's plans to overhaul wages for public servants in NSW and plans a week of protests against the contentious bill.
Nurses, teachers and firefighters will be joined by unions from across the country in a rally outside Parliament House on Wednesday as they step up their campaign before the wages bill goes to a final vote in the lower house this week.
The bill states that wage rises of more than 2.5 per cent will be paid only after they are matched by employee-related savings. The Industrial Relations Commission will be stripped of its powers and will have to abide by the policy.
Advertisement: Story continues below Police were given an exemption from the policy after a deal was reached between the crossbench MPs, who hold the balance of power in the upper house, and the government but the unions have vowed to step up their opposition.
In a letter to Mr O'Farrell on Friday, the ACTU secretary, Jeff Lawrence, said the Premier had no mandate to introduce the changes, which Mr Lawrence described as a ''clear breach of international law''.
"Australian unions will campaign to make sure that all NSW working people and their families know that their rights at work are worth fighting for, and worth voting for," Mr Lawrence said.
He said the bill would remove the right to bargain or take industrial action to secure better wages.
''This would not only be unjust, but it would be a clear breach of international law and Australia's obligation to respect human rights, which include labour rights,'' Mr Lawrence's letter said.
The NSW Nurses Association has warned the government that it should brace itself for rolling statewide strikes after its members voted to start industrial action on Wednesday with a mass rally in Macquarie Street.
The secretary of Unions NSW, Mark Lennon, said unions would not stand by and watch the government's ''outright attack'' on the rights of workers and their families.
"This unfair attack will mean nurses, teachers, firefighters and other public sector workers will have the weakest workplace rights in the nation," he said.
"The ACTU's intervention shows the gravity of the situation. It's heartening to know that the entire Australian trade union movement is behind us as we take our campaign into the community.''
The Greens' industrial relations spokesman, David Shoebridge, said the proposed changes would put pressure on the federal Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, to state his position on workplace laws.
''This is a real test for Tony Abbott. Will he distance himself from the NSW Coalition's radical new IR laws or will he embrace them and risk having a fresh federal battle on industrial relations,'' Mr Shoebridge said.
''Despite all its flaws, even under Work Choices unions could approach the Commonwealth Industrial Relations Commission to set minimum entitlements without being threatened with a veto by the government.
''Under O'Farrell's new laws, all bets are off, and the government of the day will get the power to veto wage rises, and cut back on conditions, by simply issuing a regulation.''
A spokesman for Mr Abbott would not be drawn on the issue and said wages for public servants were an issue for Mr O'Farrell but the Premier should ''be supported in doing what he thinks is the best for NSW''.
When asked what Mr O'Farrell's plans meant for the federal Coalition, the spokesman said the opposition had not moved from its position that ''Work Choice was dead, buried and cremated''.
The government maintains it needs to rein in public sector wages and says the legislation will save taxpayers $1.96 billion over the next four years and still allow for fair wage rises if public servants can make more productivity savings.