Victorian health workers strike

Issue 

Victorian health workers strike

By Kim Linden

MELBOURNE — Two thousand members and supporters of the Health Services Union of Australia (HSUA) walked off the job on June 1 to attend a lively stop-work meeting and rally in the city centre. HSUA members around the state, including in Ballarat and Geelong, also struck.

The strike was organised to protest the Kennett government's proposal to contract out health workers' jobs to private companies through a process called "compulsive competitive tendering". The jobs affected would include cleaning, portering, food services, linen services and those in central sterilising departments.

The proposal is part of the government's overall plan to privatise and reduce expenditure on health services. By contracting out, the government would avoid providing standard conditions and entitlements such as leave, holiday pay and sick pay.

Workers at the meeting voted to strike immediately for 24 hours if any jobs are threatened with contracting. They also voted to demand a 14% wage increase in light of 19% productivity gains in the health sector. The meeting also endorsed the Public First anti-privatisation rally planned for June 25 (see page 31 for details).

Speakers included the national secretary of the Service Workers Union of New Zealand, Mark Gosche. Gosche pointed to the New Zealand experience of a dramatic drop in the number of jobs in the health industry and a corresponding decline in health standards. He also spoke about striking hospital workers in New Zealand's south island who had to watch members of their families perform scab labour because of enforced work-for-the-dole schemes.