Public servants strike to save jobs

December 5, 2014
A protest in Hobart on November 27 against the state government's cuts to the public service.

Public sector unions in Tasmania held a two-hour strike across the state on November 27 to protest against the job cuts planned by the state Liberal government.

About 10,000 workers from 11 unions attended stop-work rallies at 18 sites. This included about 5000 people who rallied at Parliament House in Hobart and 2000 who gathered at the Inveresk Tramsheds in Launceston.

The rally in Burnie had to move out of the Arts and Function Centre to accommodate all the striking workers.

Paramedics, teachers, court staff, prison officers, librarians, nurses, orderlies, allied health professionals, quarantine officers, kitchen staff, IT workers, park rangers and many more participated.

In response to the teachers’ planned two-hour strike, the government closed all state schools for the whole day, giving parents just two days’ notice to organise child-care arrangements, angering many parents and adding to the numbers at the rallies.

Parents also held another rally at Parliament on the same day in support of teachers and against the cuts to education.

Unions Tasmania president Roz Madsen said: “Before the election [Premier] Will Hodgman solemnly and repeatedly promised that no more than 500 workers would be cut from Tasmania’s public services. He promised not to sack nurses or teachers…

“Will Hodgman lied to Tasmanians …[he] is gutting our schools, TAFEs and colleges, sacking 266 teachers, axing classes like special assistance programs, [physical education], music, art, languages and excursions, cutting IT support and sacking Pathway Planners. [He is also] ripping $211 million out of our health and hospital system.”

While the government has announced that 861 full-time equivalent jobs will be cut by June 30 next year, unions estimate the number will be 1200 full-time equivalent jobs. This means about 2000 workers will lose their positions.

Most schools are facing the loss of two teachers as the Gonski funding will be undermined by the budget cuts.

At every meeting members endorsed a 12 month wage freeze but on two conditions — that the government must guarantee all the savings from a wage freeze are used to protect jobs and that the freeze is implemented through the Industrial Commission.

Unions had rejected a previous pay freeze ultimatum that only allowed them 48 hours to consult with members, did not specify the resultant job savings and would have involved an undermining of the Industrial Relations Commission’s role.

In a survey recently carried out by the Community and Public Sector Union in Tasmania, more than 45% of respondents reported working more hours than they were paid and nearly 45% were available via email or phone outside their normal work hours.

The unions reported that public sector workers do around 1,625,000 hours of unpaid work each year, which equates to more than 800 full-time equivalent positions or a salary saving of more than $80 million.

At the rallies public servants raised their hands to agree that “good will had gone” and they would "work to rule", meaning all meal breaks would be taken and no extra hours would be worked for free.

No further industrial action has been planned but unions said they would publicise the job cuts as they happen to highlight the impact they would have on the community.

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