In the lead up to its first budget next month, Queensland’s Liberal National Party (LNP) government has intensified its slash-and-burn approach to public and community services. In its first 100 days in office, it axed 7000 public service jobs. Premier Campbell Newman says a further 13,000 job cuts are to come.
Newman has wielded his axe indiscriminately. School cleaners, teachers’ aides, child safety, paramedics, firefighters, local courts, QBuild tradesmen and apprentices are all in the firing line.
Several government departments and workplaces, including teachers and public service clerical staff, are negotiating new enterprise agreements. Workers are being threatened with the removal of conditions and pay rises under inflation levels.
The government has also introduced a new law to override the job security provisions of certified agreements. This would pave the way for forced redundancies. The initial job cuts had been largely achieved by shedding casual and contract staff. Future job cuts place forced redundancies squarely on the agenda.
More cuts to come
However, Newman’s figure of up to 20,000 sackings is set to balloon following a redefinition of what constitutes “front line” staff.
The Courier Mail reported on August 14 that “an extra 25,000 public servants had been declared non-frontline staff and now face the Newman government’s cost-cutting axe.
“After promising to protect those on the front line, the government has tinkered with the long standing definition and classified 12% more workers as pen-pushers as it continues to slash thousands of ‘backroom’ jobs.”
A recent government audit of the public service ruled that 65,025 workers were “non front line”. This represents 32% of the 204,400 public servants.
More than 7000 workers (or four out of five staff) in the Department of Transport and Main Roads are now classified as non-front line. On July 31, Newman announced that 2000 jobs in this Department were to go. In Queensland Health, the number of non-front line workers has almost doubled to 17,414. An expected 4000 jobs are to go, including in areas such as preventative health.
The Courier Mail spoke to a senior project worker who has worked for Queensland Health for 17 years and whose job is now on the line. He said axing health prevention programs would have a big impact on hospitals within a decade: “We’ve got to get away from this notion that health is just what happens in hospitals; we’ve got to keep people healthy so they stay out of hospitals.”
As well as slashing jobs in the public service, the Newman government has cut funding to many not-for-profit agencies in the community sector that provide services for the most marginalised and vulnerable.
The cuts have hit Sisters Inside, which gives support to female ex-prisoners. Their programs have proved cost-effective and have helped women start new lives.
Agencies providing support and advocacy for women in situations of domestic violence have also been hit with funding cuts, as have those servicing the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGTBI) community, young people, Aboriginal people, people with disabilities, the unemployed and the homeless.
Margaret Gleeson, a community-housing worker and delegate for The Services Union, told Green Left Weekly: “It is hard to ignore that the cuts to the community sector are essentially ideologically driven.
“While the defunding will not significantly affect the dollar bottom line of the state budget, it will have a significant impact on community services at a time when demand for these services will be growing, due to the multiplier effects of the LNP government’s austerity drive.
“The government is selling off caravan parks and at the same time abolishing the state-wide network of Tenants Advice and Advocacy Services (TAAS), effective from October. The 90 workers who are set to lose their jobs will not be saving the government a huge amount of money. It will, however, make it easier for landlords to evict tenants who may fall behind in rent, having just lost their job in the job-axing frenzy which we are now seeing.”
Gleeson said another problem with the abolition of the local TAAS services, “is that in many cases they provide the skeleton of local Neighbourhood Centres, many of whom will be forced to reduce their days of operation, and may even face ultimate demise.
“Campbell Newman might not think community development services are ‘front line’ but I experienced first hand the critical role that my local Neighbourhood Centre at New Farm played during the Brisbane floods in January last year. The centre stayed open throughout the emergency, coordinating volunteers, contacting older residents who were in danger of isolation, and organised the community recovery effort and celebration. They produced a very professional evaluation report of the community response to the flood emergency, which will inform the response to future emergencies.”
In a state where the basic social structures in regional centres such as Gladstone and Rockhampton have been distorted by the impact of the job growth in the mineral and extractive industries, the impact of the LNP job cuts is already being felt.
On August 9, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released figures that showed Queensland’s jobless rate had jumped from 5.3% to 5.8% — the highest rate in mainland Australia.
Queensland Council of Unions president John Battams said: “The LNP is only part way through the 20,000 jobs it wants to cut from the Queensland public sector.
“Queensland is falling well behind the national jobless rate of 5.1%. The LNP government’s indiscriminate slashing of jobs and services is leading to an unemployment black hole that is dragging down confidence and investment.
“There are another 13,000 jobs to go, according to the LNP. That could push the number of jobless Queenslanders up to 160,000 — that’s a city the size of Cairns. It’s time for the premier to stop the cuts, and sit down and talk with public sector workers and their unions to address their worries.
“There’s no evidence of any considered plan that takes into account the current economic
situation in Queensland.”
Union, community plan response
Big rallies have taken place in Brisbane in the past few months and these will build as the date for the state budget draws near.
The first protests in April took place in response to the axing of the Premier’s Literary Awards. This was followed by a 2000 strong rally in June protesting against the defunding of Healthy Communities — the state’s only LGTBI-specific health service — as well as the government’s restriction on civil unions legislation and its ban on same-sex couples accessing reproductive services such as surrogacy.
Thousands of public servants rallied outside Parliament on July 15, and teachers rallied there again two weeks later. School cleaners — members of the United Voice union — led an occupation of Newman’s office in protest against the planned outsourcing of their jobs. The Queensland Teachers Union has called another rally outside state parliament on August 21. Ambulance workers are also rallying the same day.
Two thousand delegates from 34 unions representing 370,000 workers across Queensland met in Brisbane and via Skype on August 1. Delegates condemned the LNP government’s actions and endorsed a statewide day of action for September 12.
There was a lot of sentiment from the floor for concerted industrial action on that day, however the final communique from Battams spoke of “support for a long-term campaign beginning with a day of community wide protests and action on September 12”.
Gleeson told GLW: “Many delegates I spoke to at the meeting thought that Battams’ call for a long campaign was in effect a call for the re-election of the ALP government … even though Battams wasn’t really game enough to say this outright.”
The first organising meeting of Queensland Uncut community group was held on August 2. The group had been launched at a public forum two weeks before. The organising meeting attracted more than 80 people and agreed to endorse the September 12 day of action and to take part in the rally.
Queensland Uncut also agreed to hold a march and rally against the cuts on August 23. Members of the group have taking to the streets almost daily to leaflet workplaces.