By Cameron Parker
Just one month into his four-year term, NSW Premier Bob Carr has angered trade unionists with his proposed cuts to the NSW public sector. Carr is taking steps to corporatise State Rail freight services, and has warned that other sections of the public sector are up for privatisation.
Carr looks set to outdo other NSW ALP anti-union premiers such as Neville Wran and Barry Unsworth. At a recent business luncheon, Carr stated that the state's unfair dismissal law was a "handbrake on employment growth" and threatened to change the law to make it easier to sack workers.
For the last four weeks, the ALP has been systematically preparing parts of the NSW public service for privatisation. Carr has warned that public services would avoid job cuts and privatisation only if they could outcompete public services in other states that were already in the process of being privatised.
The April 21 Sydney Morning Herald quoted Carr as saying that, "The vision of our Labor government [is] to build a public sector that stands as a shining contrast to the ... conservative states. If we are to defend the public sector ... we need to see that there are changes and that we do achieve productivity — with the cooperation and consultation of the work force." This means that Labor is relying on the support of the union bureaucracy to implement its neo-liberal agenda.
To ensure this, Carr is hoping to curry favour by promising to scrap the Liberals' Industrial Relations Act and replace it with provisions which restore a union's right to enter workplaces, "no ticket no start" clauses and a limited right to strike.
Enterprise agreements made under NSW laws, currently separate from awards, will be brought under the control of the state Industrial Relations Commission. Some 100 bosses will be required to pay compensation to workers who have been forced to put up with economically brutal enterprise agreements struck in 1994.
Carr, at a recent Trades and Labour Council meeting, promised that he has no intention of selling off hospitals, schools, the water and electricity boards or prisons. However, he did say that new prisons would be up for private contract. (Given Labor's law and order election promises, prisons look set to become quite profitable industries!)
Carr, like his Queensland counterpart Wayne Goss and the other conservative premiers, has endorsed the Hilmer Report, which commits state, territory and federal governments to open up public monopolies to competition.
However, the Hilmer report is more than just the privatisation of public utilities. National competition will undermine job security by making the work force more mobile, insecure, unorganised and compliant to the machinations of management. Across the country, labour costs and bosses' responsibilities to their work forces will be reduced. Permanent jobs will become casual or part-time.
Privatisation is about ridding workplaces of the more skilled and industrially strong unions and workers — those which have been at the forefront of wages campaigns.
NSW workers may find themselves in a situation similar to that of workers in Victoria, where the privatisation of the state's electricity grid is happening at an alarming rate. And as if to underscore his right-wing agenda, Carr has appointed Hilmer Report committee chairperson Fred Hilmer to head Pacific Power, Australia's single largest electricity utility.
As well, Ken Burgess, the architect of the 35,000 public sector job slash in Victoria, has been appointed head of the NSW premier's department.
Carr's claim that he opposes privatisation and the exploitation of workers ring very hollow when he has recruited the hatchet people most able to implement the privatising and job-cutting.