Thousands rally to defend sick and injured workers' rights

Firefighters voted to take strike action if the government cut workers' compensation. Photo: Peter Boyle

About 7000 union and community activists braved heavy rain in Sydney to protest against the NSW government's plans to undermine workers' compensation and entitlements on June 13. They chanted “shame, Barry, shame” and “injured workers in his sights, taking away our compo rights”.

In Newcastle, Hunter nurses took strike action to join up to 1500 workers and supporters. Hundreds also rallied in Wollongong.

The proposed cuts to WorkCover include scrapping coverage for workers on their way to and from work, reducing payments to injured workers after 13 weeks rather than the current 26 weeks, and completely axing medical assistance and payments to workers who are still sick or injured after two-and-a-half years.

Another recommendation from a parliamentary committee is to end entitlements for nervous shock to family members of workers killed on the job.

Firefighters, nurses, construction workers, factory and office workers all attended, along with many people who had suffered serious workplace injuries or illnesses. Workers left flowers outside NSW parliament gates to remember those killed and injured at work.

NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge hammered the attacks: "We will see people injured through no fault of their own, being forced into poverty, we will see families losing their houses, because Barry O'Farrell is too mean to have reasonable compensation rights.”

The Fire Brigade Employees Union met before the rally and voted to take strike action if the government cut workers' compensation provisions and death and disability awards.

FBEU state secretary Jim Casey told Green Left Weekly: "Firefighters work a very dangerous job, every day of the year, public holidays with no penalty rates, all for a very modest wage. We are prepared to do all that — but we are not prepared to allow the government to take advantage of us and our families if we are injured. These workers' compensation reforms are nothing more than a naked grab for money from injured workers to insurers and the top end of town, it's unacceptable, and we're not going to cop it."

Labor opposition leader John Robertson told the rally the O'Farrell government is "taking an axe to working people". He said the previous day the government had announced 10,000 job cuts, and now they are gutting the rights of sick and injured workers.

Workers and supporters speak to Green Left TV:

Photos: Peter Boyle

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