SA public service fights for jobs on the streets

Adelaide, October 28. Photo by John McGill.

Almost daily protests have been organised by unions and community groups since the ALP state government handed down its budget on September 16.

It slashed community infrastructure, cut 3743 jobs from the public service and altered the Public Services Act to do away with workers' leave loading and long service leave entitlements.

The largest protest was a 10,000-strong march organised by the Public Service Association (PSA) that marched along King William Street on its way to parliament.

Other rallies have been organised against the closure of country hospitals, for continued access to adult education and to save the Parks Community Centre in one of the poorest parts of Adelaide.

There have also been protests and rallies organised in country towns, including Port Augusta, Whyalla, Mount Gambier and Murray Bridge.

The protests have forced the government to retreat on the closure of the Parks Community Centre. Education minister Jay Weatheril has also announced a reversal of the decision to cut funding to adult students wanting to complete Year 12.

However, a spokesperson for treasurer and deputy premier Kevin Foley said Weatherill's ministry must make the $20 million savings one way or another.

There has been open friction between Weatherill and Foley since the state election earlier this year. Weatherill, from Labor’s left faction, challenged Foley for the deputy leader's position after a swing against the ALP. The right faction has a firm grip on the numbers in caucus and Weatherill was defeated overwhelmingly. Any change in the leadership of the party is most likely to come from the right.

The most recent rally took place outside the electoral office of Kevin Foley on November 3.

SA secretary of the PSA, Jan McMahon, told the rally: “We will take our message to the streets. We will continue to meet outside government electoral offices. We will continue our fight … This is what we have to say, job cuts equals service cuts, negotiate, don't legislate and leave our leave alone.”

SA Unions secretary Janet Giles recalled the previous rally outside Foley's office had been over attacks on the most vulnerable in the work force, injured workers. She said this was “disappointing, disgusting and shameful”.

She said the attack on public servants’ conditions broke “the basic principle of collective bargaining” and accused Foley of using legislation to ride roughshod over workers’ rights.

SA Secretary of the United Firefighters Union, Greg Northcott, noted that there had been a swing of 14% against Foley at the last election, but he had just voted himself a 15.4% rise in superannuation.

Ambulance union state secretary Phil Palmer said that when Foley was told in parliament that there had been numerous mistakes in ambulance workers’ pay, his response was “Shit happens”.

Palmer said: “He's given our union a campaign slogan 'shit happens'. We will make shit happen at every possible opportunity because we want him out.”

Weekly protests outside government ministers' offices will continue. There are also plans for a major rally outside the ALP State Conference on November 27.