ACT government workers rally


By Sue Bull CANBERRA — In their first major display of unity, some 2000 ACT government workers crowded into Civic Square on February 21 to campaign for a 9% fully funded wage increase. They chanted slogans calling for the 9%, abused independent MLA Michael Moore when he wanted to tell the crowd why he supported the Liberals' budget and pay offers, and crowded into the Legislative Assembly in such numbers that it had to be closed for the day. From 8am, workers began to roll up as trucks and buses blockaded Civic once more. An hour later, white collar workers, teachers, nurses, health workers, students and others began to arrive. Many were pleased with the solidarity shown by students. Indeed, the whole rally had a strong feeling of solidarity as workers from traditionally rival unions found themselves on the same side. Officials from most unions addressed the rally. However, the most inspiring speeches came from rank-and-file members. One school cleaner said the industrial campaign in his school meant that parents were being offered cleaning jobs at $14 an hour, when regular cleaners receive only $10 an hour. Parking officers were cheered when they announced that they would increase their bans and not enforce reserved parking for diplomats and politicians, especially the spot reserved for Chief Minister Kate Carnell. The officers noted that the police had been breaking some of these bans and had booked parking officers' vehicles. The rally finished with a vote to place a goods and services picket on the Legislative Assembly until the government negotiates with the combined unions. Carnell has responded with different pay offers for different unions. All involve productivity increases and involuntary redundancy provisions and typify Carnell's attempts to divide the unions. Most of the unions have rejected her offers as shabby, divisive mechanisms. Significantly, the largest union involved in the dispute, the Community and Public Sector Union, has not been offered a pay increase, and the only productivity "savings" left will come through job cuts. The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance had the final say of the day by calling a one hour stop-work when Carnell arrived with the head of the ACT Public Service, John Walker, at the Canberra Theatre that night. The dispute is currently before the Industrial Relations Commission, where the Trades and Labour Council is seeking an order to bring the government back to the negotiating table.