By David Wright
HOBART — Liberal Premier Ray Groom delivered a "slash and burn" budget on August 12 to a chorus of approval from the business sector, new right prophets and the commercial media. Workers and trade unions have responded angrily.
Groom, who came to power on a platform of "Jobs, Security, Solutions", will cut at least 1100 jobs this year, with 500 from Department of Construction and 350 from the Department of Health.
These massive public sector cuts lend little hope to the 12.5% (official) of Tasmania's work force who are unemployed. The cuts follow the APPM announcement that it will be cutting 400 jobs from its Burnie and Wesley Vale plants.
Groom's government has taken the NSW Greiner plan for job slashing and privatisation and pushed even further along. Some of the these new budget "reforms" include: the axing of the Office of Aboriginal Affairs; big cuts to land tax; more than 300 businesses to benefit from cuts to payroll tax; the sale of the Tasmanian Government Insurance Office; privatisation of the Tasmanian Development Authority's housing loan portfolio; commercially oriented boards to be established for a number of authorities; entry fee to national parks; legislation to speed up development approvals; no new taxes or tax increases; end of support services to the Green Independents; an increase of police numbers from 974 to 1010; introduction of non-compulsory unionism and enterprise bargaining.
The budget allocation for a new employment initiatives program is a paltry $750,000. Only $400,000 is allotted to help Tasmanians in "need". Another $10 million was cut from the health system, which last year was cut by $20 million.
Green Independent Bob Brown said, "While 1100 jobs of ordinary Tasmanians are to be slashed, the budget allocates a bonanza of $1 million extra to the ministers' own staffing and services".
The government's proposed new anti-union laws attack many of the hard-won gains of the labour movement. The sweeping changes to industrial legislation include:
- voluntary unionism, with penalties of up to $25,000 for a union and $3000 for individuals who try to encourage union membership as a condition of employment;
- the introduction of a new adult minimum wage, possibly as low as $257 per week;
- banning of any new award agreements;
- employers allowed to stand down without pay perform any of their normal duties.
The government believes these changes can apply to both state and federal awards unless the federal award specifically excludes enterprise agreements.
At a crowded Trades and Labor Council meeting, the budget was resoundingly rejected. Frustration turned to anger as unions and workers planned their response.
Unions have threatened to revoke Tasmania's exemption from some transport strikes, and the National Parks and Wildlife rangers have implemented a work to rule campaign, closing parks on weekends, public holidays and after 5 p.m. Department of Construction workers have vowed that they will wage a hard fight to save their jobs.
Jim Bacon, secretary of the Tasmanian Trades and Labor Council, said "This is a slash and burn budget, and it's all aimed at the working people, who are being asked to bear the brunt to fix a problem they have had no part in creating".
The meeting decided on a submission to the state government about industrial relations policy, an approach to the ACTU seeking support for any action and a long-term industrial campaign.