The Victorian Allied Health Professionals Association (VAHPA) has begun an industrial campaign with the current pay deal due to finish at the end of the year. There are about 7500 VAHPA members in the public sector. Health professionals include physiotherapists, medical imaging technologists and social workers. The union recently conducted a survey that found 49% of health professionals were considering leaving their current employer and almost 25% were actively seeking work outside the health sector.
Unionists rallied in Melbourne on September 23 to defend penalty rates as employers, such as the Australian Hotels Association, demanded the Fair Work Commission cut weekend penalty rates. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is considering reducing Sunday penalty rates. Australian Industry Group CEO Innes Willox told 3AW on September 23 that there were concerns about penalty rates because they were a "cost to employment”. “Sundays are not hugely different to any other day, but there still should be a reward for working weekends”, said Willox. “Employers recognise that."
About 100 people rallied outside Australia Post in the CBD on September 9 to protest against job cuts at Australia Post. Australia Post CEO Ahmed Fahour’s plans to “halve the service and double the price for letters” is before the parliament now. This could see the price of stamps increased to $1. Fahour announced that he had put aside $190 million for redundancies — an indication of how many jobs will go. Australia Post’s revenue has increased by more than $1.5 billion since 2010.
Over the past two weeks the Victorian Labor government has ramped up its hostile rhetoric towards rail and tram workers fighting to defend their rights. This culminated in joint legal action taken in the Fair Work Commission with rail boss Metro Trains against the Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) in a bid to stop railway workers from taking strike action on September 4. It failed to stop the strike going ahead.
Members of Melbourne’s Kurdish community, along with Australian supporters, held a rally and march in Melbourne on August 29 to protest Turkey’s war against its Kurdish population. Speakers denounced the regime of President Recip Tayyip Erdogan for launching a war on the Kurds, who make up over a quarter of Turkey’s population. Kurdish cities, towns and villages have been savagely attacked by security forces. People have been killed in their homes, the death toll is rising and hundreds of Kurdish politicians and activists have been arrested.
A plan to swamp Melbourne’s CBD with Australian Border Force officials, police and transport officers to check the visa status of “any individual we cross paths with” was cancelled before it began following sustained criticism of the operation from politicians, unions, Melbourne city council, human rights lawyers and the people of Victoria.
An emotional and highly charged stopwork meeting of hundreds of tram workers jammed into Trades Hall on August 27 to hear a report on their dispute with Yarra Trams. Yarra Trams and Metro Rail workers had called off a planned four-hour strike on August 21 in the hope that the companies would present the Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) with a better offer. The better offer never came so the tram workers struck for four hours on August 27. This was the first tram strike since 1997.
About 7000 people marched for equal marriage rights in Melbourne on August 15. It was the largest such rally in years. Contingents of teachers, nurses and other unions were out in force. The march featured a portable rainbow and ended with a mass illegal wedding outside the registry office. Rally chair Anthony Wallace rejected PM Tony Abbott's call for a referendum and said "Just pass the bloody bill!".
After a huge amount of political pressure from the Victorian government, the Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) agreed to postpone its August 21 tram and train strike, and Metro Rail and Yarra Trams agreed to return to the negotiating table. Had the strike gone ahead it would have been the first such strike in 18 years. RTBU members were clearly fed up with their respective train and tram companies, with 98% of railway workers and 99.4% of tram workers who returned ballots voting for industrial action.
Many Victorians had hoped the election of a state Labor government signaled an end to the East West Link and the dawn of a new age of public transport projects, with the Andrews government committing to start building the $11 billion Metro Rail Project in 2018. Now, federal Liberal MPs from Melbourne’s outer east are trying to resuscitate the East West Link. On August 8 they held a small rally with the demand “Build the Link”.
August 13 was Day 4 of an indefinite strike and picket by workers at Woolworths’ Melbourne Liquor Distribution Centre (MLDC). The strike began at 4am on August 9 when workers walked off the job in protest at Woolworths’ plans that all new employees would be labour hire casuals. During the last enterprise bargaining negotiations, Woolworths had agreed not to introduce labour hire. Currently, all employees, including casuals, are directly employed by Woolworths with opportunities for casual workers to apply to become permanent each year.
In what has become a typical pattern by employers, Woolworths sent a text message to the 680 workers at its distribution centre in Broadmeadows on June 9 to inform them that the warehouse would be closed down in 2018.