By Melanie Sjoberg
ADELAIDE — Thousands of workers marched through the city on February 15 to express their frustration and anger at the Brown Liberal government's proposed changes to the workers' compensation scheme, Workcover.
The Adelaide Advertiser estimated the crowd at 8000, but it would really have been double that figure. People proclaimed it the largest rally since the Vietnam moratorium marches.
Prior to the rally, the Advertiser had conducted a sensational campaign against the current Workcover system. Front-page headlines proclaimed that workers were rorting the scheme.
Despite this and the 37 heat, workers gathered early and marched from Victoria Square, noisily declaring their presence, taking up the width and length of the city streets. Some 20 public transport buses stopped in the city centre so that drivers could join the rally. Banners reflected the diversity of participation from trade unions: CFMEU, AFMEU, CEPU, LHMWU, PSA, AWU, PKIU, FSU, ASU and UTLC.
Frank Barbaro, from the United Ethnic Communities and Coalition For Fair Workcover, spoke on the contribution that migrant workers have made to industry and pointed out that they have borne the brunt of restructuring of the economy. He stated that the real task to fix Workcover was to get employers to pay proper levies. He claimed that 1500 employers are not even registered to make contributions to the scheme.
ALP leader Mike Rann told the rally that the Labor Party would make a commitment to "vote against every single clause of this bill". This received rousing support.
People massed on the street were encouraged by CFMEU organiser Mick O'Malley: "Without these types of rallies, nothing is going to change ... we need people on the street."
O'Malley also took the Labor Party to task for being "the first to start the rot [because] they began the cuts to Workcover when they were in government".
According to O'Malley, employers in the construction industry who were required to pay premiums of up to 50% now pay a maximum of 17%, with the average around 13%. He argued that occupational health and safety aspects of the industry were little changed.
He said workers needed to take industrial action; it might even be necessary to close the job down so that employers would provide a safe work environment.