Slash and burn tactics hit SA public service

June 8, 1994

By Melanie Sjoberg

ADELAIDE — 7000 public sector workers, including teachers and nurses, mobilised on May 24 in opposition to massive job cuts proposed in the SA government's audit commission report on state finances. The establishment media, politicians and other right-wing commentators then proceeded to castigate them over their actions.

It was claimed that industrial action was unnecessary, or at the very least premature, when the Liberal government had not made any statements about the actual plans to be implemented. Liberal Premier Dean Brown's official announcement on June 1, however, vindicated workers' concerns and actions.

The state public service is to be reduced by a minimum of 5500 workers over the next three years. Permanent tenure positions will become a thing of the past, and no wage rises will be provided in the next two years. The education budget will be slashed by $40 million over the next four years and health by $65 million per year. The public transport sector will be steadily privatised, with rumours that it could be totally sold off before the end of the decade.

Public Service Association assistant secretary Tony McHarper told Green Left Weekly that workers "have had a gutful" and that there is a real preparedness on the ground to take action.

"Public servants haven't had a pay rise since 1991, and they have been told that previous changes to working conditions would be counted towards enterprise bargaining. Now they are being told that any pay rise will cost more jobs", he said.

The Liberal government has cynically introduced changes designed to push public sector workers to take early separation packages and get out. Under the previous Labor government, up to 7000 jobs had already been cut, with workers being offered a package that included eight weeks' pay plus three weeks for every year of service. The Liberals now propose to reduce that, from August 1, to four weeks plus two weeks for every year.

This is clearly a draconian economic rationalist budget with no foresight or consideration of the potential social impact. It has been revealed that SA already has Australia's highest social welfare bill, partly as a result of the relatively high proportion of ageing population, and because of unemployment over 11%.

Cuts to health, education and public transport will most disadvantage those already on low incomes. Gail Gago, Nursing Federation secretary, has predicted huge jumps in the waiting time for hospital care. The recently built Noarlunga Community Hospital, for example, still has much of its equipment wrapped in plastic because there are insufficient funds to employ staff.

A combined meeting of public sector union members is being planned for later in June to determine a course of action.

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.