BY MARCUS PABIAN
MELBOURNE — Following a three-month campaign to resist job cuts, workers employed in the state Department of Education and Training (DET), frustrated by intransigence of Premier Steve Bracks' Labor government, went on strike on November 17.
"The dispute is about a government elected on a promise to restore services, not to effectively dismantle the state education system", the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) said in a media statement.
Staff at the picket lines on November 17 were furious that they could not debate education minister Lynne Kosky publicly on live radio that morning, as the DET's code of conduct prohibits DET employees from publicly criticising department policy.
Anger amongst DET staff, who are resisting the sacking of 275 staff, has been fuelled by Kosky's repeated refusal to meet with CPSU representatives over the issue. Kosky has declared the sackings an administrative issue. The Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) has agreed with Kosky and recommended the CPSU meet with DET secretary Grant Hehir.
Following a fruitless November 13 meeting with Hehir, who would not commit to anything in writing, a meeting of 200 CPSU members in front of the DET building voted to confirm their decision to take strike action on November 17.
An employee at the department, who has worked there for 15 years, who spoke to Green Left Weekly on condition of anonymity, said: "We have rested a lot of our faith in the AIRC slowing down the process and reducing the cuts, [however] we have now lost faith in the AIRC and the Department of Education and Training to make the process more humane or significantly reduce the cuts... This is the worst handled change in the department I have ever seen."
The disaffection with the Labor minister is spreading to ALP branches in Victoria. Leanne Shingles, the CPSU campaign liaison officer, told GLW that, as of November 19, eight ALP branches have passed motions to condemn the minister's cuts to the department, including Kosky's own local branch in Altona.
An open letter to Kosky, endorsed by a host of unions including the Australian Education Union and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, which will be published in daily and community newspapers, notes that "the loss of one in three jobs is at odds with Labor's public commitments prior to the 2002 election".
From Green Left Weekly, November 26, 2003.
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