The Victorian Blind Workers Union and United Voice Queensland have stepped up the fight to save the jobs of 73 vision-impaired workers. The workers are due to be sacked within three months by Vision Australia Enterprises in Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales.
Not-for-profit organisation Vision Australia plans to cease its supported employment program due to financial problems.
A rally and march of 200 blind people and supporters was held in Melbourne on August 18 to oppose the sackings. The protesters heard speeches, marched to Bourke Street and returned to Federation Square. They distributed 1000 flyers urging the public to support their cause and sign an online petition, which received more than 100 signatures in a week.
A further rally to save blind workers’ jobs took place outside Queensland parliament on August 21.
Blind workers took to social media and have spread news through community organisations made up of vision-impaired people.
The workers have adopted the slogans, “Vision Australia, keep manual labour” and “Where’s the vision in the decision?”
Blind workers have been posting poems to promote the rallies. One poem read:
“Rally, rally, round the square/Close our factories if you dare/Rally, rally round the street/Let’s show VA we won’t be beat.”
Another poem encouraged blind protesters to brave Melbourne’s wintry weather and targeted Vision Australia CEO Ron Hooten, who announced the sackings: “Tomorrow is the day. Rally rally round the street. Vision Australia, The Blind Defeat! It doesn't matter rain or shine, there’s only one thing on our mind. Hooton is silent, he could be asleep... But nah! He's nicked to Kiwi land to check on his sheep. BA BA BA. Just as long as we're together, No need to care about the weather.”
The Melbourne rally attracted widespread media coverage and was addressed by Blind Workers Union spokesperson Martin Stewart and vision-impaired workers Margaret Shanahan, Alan Berginc, Simon Giddings and Gina Kacowicz.
Victorian shadow minister for industrial relations Natalie Hutchins also addressed the rally. Australian Council of Trade Unions President Ged Kearney has pledged union support for the campaign to save blind workers’ jobs.
To sign the petition, “Save blind workers’ jobs”, click here. Messages of support and offers of assistance for vision-impaired workers can be sent to Blind Workers Union spokesperson Martin Stewart at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Helen Said is a member of the Socialist Alliance. Its policy on people with disability can be read here.]