Liberals attack workers' rights, public services

O'Farrell pleases big business by attacking workers and outsourcing services.

The day after the Barry O’Farrell Coalition government was elected in NSW in March, NSW Business Chamber CEO Stephen Cartwright said he wanted action in the first 100 days of the new government.

He said business wanted O’Farrell to cut government spending, sign up to the weaker federal occupational health and safety laws (OH&S), appoint a Small Business Commissioner, establish Infrastructure NSW, and produce the first report card on the progress of the Pacific Highway upgrade.

These priorities reflected the chamber’s “10 Big Ideas to Grow NSW”, which was released in June last year.

Well, the NSW Business Chamber got its wish and then some.

In its first 100 days, the O’Farrell government began to attack public services. It began plans to lease out Sydney Ferries, announced a cap on pay rises of 2.5% for public servants and linked any higher wages to employee-funded savings.

In late June, it said it would end the public service “no forced redundancies” policy.

O’Farrell was quick to commit NSW to the national harmonisation of OH&S laws. But action in parliament from opposition Labor and Greens MPs preserved unions’ right to prosecute employers for breaches.

In April, the government reversed its commitment to fund the Pay Equity claim for more than 30,000 community sector workers in NSW to rectify the 30% wage gap between community and government sector employees.

A Small Business Commissioner was appointed and the government introduced legislation to create Infrastructure NSW.

Newly appointed Infrastructure NSW CEO Paul Broad expressed his admiration for the privatisation of rail networks in Victoria under Jeff Kennett. He told the June 30 Sydney Morning Herald NSW would “benefit from something similar”.

In early July, the chamber endorsed Finance Minister Greg Pearce’s push “for a more aggressive approach to the contestability of services throughout government” — that is, the outsourcing of government services.

Welcoming the appointment of Phil Gaetjens as NSW treasury secretary in August, the Chamber urged treasury to prepare “for real electricity privatisation in NSW, not poisoned by the compromises and handouts of the past”.

The premier and treasurer have also spent serious time preparing the ground for a tough budget.

No sooner had the new government taken office than it said it had inherited a $5.2 billion budget deficit and accused the former Labor government of “cooking the books”.

A report commissioned by Unions NSW, released on September 2 and undertaken by BIS Shrapnel chief economist Frank Gelber has cast fresh doubt over the claim.

Job cuts have been announced in the departments of primary industries, health and corrective services. The government’s Victims Compensation Scheme was targeted for review.

Sydney’s ferry services have already been franchised out to private operators.

The NSW Teachers Federation (NSWTF) says the O’Farrell government’s new wages policy means an effective pay cut for teachers of about $75 a week after four years for an experienced teacher.

This will affect the recruitment and retention of new teachers as the workforce ages and retires.

Future pay rises depend on increasing teacher workloads and worsening the quality of education for students by increasing class sizes, reducing release time for professional development, reducing or eliminating the employment of casual school teachers and using part-time TAFE teachers to replace absent colleagues.

The NSWTF was the first union to announce a 24-hour stop work on September 8. It and was the first union targeted by the O’Farrell government for sanctions in the Industrial Relations Commission.

Thanks to draconian industrial laws, workers in NSW do not have the right to strike outside a bargaining period —denying a basic right for all workers.

This means unions are forced to defy the law to organise stop work and strike action to defend the public sector.

The NSW Public Service Association (PSA) has launched a legal challenge to the new public sector industrial relations laws.

PSA general secretary John Cahill said the union thinks the law is invalid because it interferes with the independence and institutional integrity of the Industrial Relations Commission and Industrial Court of New South Wales.

The NSW Industrial Relations Commission is yet to decide on the case.

Unions NSW launched a campaign against the attacks in June. Stopwork and other protest actions were organised on June 15 at short notice. Twelve thousand workers took action in Sydney.

Progressive activists within unions have begun to organise and network to push for a serious industrial campaign to defeat O’Farrell.

Since June 15, hundreds of people have taken part in community rallies across regional NSW and in Western Sydney.

These rallies include a protest by Port Macquarie workers outside a community cabinet meeting and then the office of local National MP Leslie Williams on June 28.

The same day, about 100 people in Broken Hill, including teachers, firefighters, nurses, prison officers and police officers protested outside Nationals MP John Williams’s office.

On July 12, more than 350 people marched on Penrith State Liberal MP Stuart Ayres’ office in protest.

On July 13, 300 public servants rallied in Dubbo, outside the office of Nationals MP Troy Grant.

On July 14, about 500 public sector workers rallied in Gosford and in Orange.

On July 15, 50-100 people rallied in Tamworth. In Bathurst, about 500 public sector workers protested at the office of National MP Paul Toole.

On July 26, 300 public sector workers rallied in Lismore against National MP Thomas George.

In Tweed Heads, nurses, policemen, teachers, firefighters and public servants gathered outside Tweed MP Geoff Provest’s office. A small rally was held in Queanbeyan on the same day.

On July 27 in Coffs Harbour, more than 200 public sector workers marched on local MP Andrew Fraser’s office.

In Grafton, hundreds of public sector workers rallied against local member Steve Cansdell’s support for the industrial relations legislation.

In Kempsey on July 28 more than 60 public sector workers protested. Hundreds of public servants also rallied against the new laws July 29 in Newcastle.

On August 25, teachers with other community members protested in Muswellbrook. Teachers travelled from from Singleton and Scone to support the protest.

On August 31, protesters took to the streets of Orange to protest job cuts.

Progressive activists within unions have begun to organise and network to push for a serious industrial campaign to defeat O'Farrell, and are circulating a statement which can be found here.

If you like our work, become a supporter

Green Left is a vital social-change project and aims to make all content available online, without paywalls. With no corporate sponsors or advertising, we rely on support and donations from readers like you.

For just $5 per month get the Green Left digital edition in your inbox each week. For $10 per month get the above and the print edition delivered to your door. You can also add a donation to your support by choosing the solidarity option of $20 per month.

Freecall now on 1800 634 206 or follow the support link below to make a secure supporter payment or donation online.