A “Safe from COVID, Safe from Poverty” car convoy protest was organised by stood-down workers from the Annette Kellerman Aquatic Centre (AKAC) in Marrickville.
On August 1, a car convoy of unionists, activists and community members drove with signs pointing out the inadequate level of JobSeeker and the federal government’s disaster payment.
Workers from AKAC were stood down at the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown. The pool is owned by the Inner West Council, but managed by Belgravia Leisure, which has denied it has done anything wrong.
AKAC management met with the stood-down workers on July 5, but the United Workers Union said its only offer was for workers to access mental health services and undertake “boot camps” during the lockdown.
The protesters want JobSeeker raised to $80 a day and for the disaster payment to be raised to $750 a week, regardless of hours lost. They also highlighted the need for safe pandemic working conditions, such as paid vaccination leave and paid test and isolation leave.
New South Wales Police blocked off Macquarie Street where the car convoy had been scheduled to start and issued at least nine participants with fines.
The convoy was supported by the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union (AUWU) Sydney branch and attended by members of the National Tertiary Education Union, Maritime Union of Australia, Independent Education Union, Health Services Union, Retail and Fast Food Workers’ Union, Australian Education Union, Public Service Association, Australian Services Union and Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance.
One of the organisers, Cooper Forsyth, said participants had remained in their cars and wore masks to avoid any risk of transmitting the virus. “Health rules around coronavirus cannot be used to stamp out the right to safe protest.”
AUWU Sydney spokesperson Evan Van Zijl criticised the government for “playing games with the lives of workers — forcing us to choose between safety and starvation”.
Stood-down AKAC worker Zoe Davison told Green Left that the most vulnerable people should not be left behind: “The new disaster payment is not enough; it shouldn’t segregate people on income support from other workers."
Another AKAC worker, Dominic, who was fined $1000 for taking part in the convoy, said workers at the pool “have to rely on inadequate income support [with] some only receiving it now — after four weeks of waiting”.
[To support the fined participants visit gofundme.com.]