Our Common Cause: Napthine – an anti-worker government

October 24, 2014
The Victorian government wants paramedics to be available to work in other parts of the state for up to a month.

Sean Brocklehurst is the Socialist Alliance candidate for Pascoe Vale in the November 29


A good example of the anti-worker attitude of Denis Napthine’s government is its treatment of paramedics.

Victoria's paramedics have been campaigning for pay parity with interstate paramedics for more than two years with no sign of a resolution.

Paramedics in Victoria work extremely long hours, with large amounts of overtime because of understaffing. Paramedics then leave the job because their pay is not adequate compensation for the long hours, and the understaffing gets worse.

When the government finally made a pay offer on July 16, it was only for an increase in the sign-on bonus, with a loss of working conditions.

Consistent with the government's demand that any pay rise be offset by a loss of working conditions, it demanded that country paramedics could be uprooted from where they live and forced to work in another part of the state for up to a month. Paramedics, like other workers, have family responsibilities. This demand would make it impossible for paramedics to care for their families.

The government has even resorted to gutter politics by having its principal industrial relations consultant, Michael Felle, distribute a letter head “Pissed Off Paramedics” which said that paramedics wanted their union to sign the government's offer. The health minister refers to the Ambulance Employees Association as being “hardline” and “thugs”.

The reality is that the government is hardline, a thug and a bully. It is taking advantage of the fact that paramedics feel that they cannot go on strike.

Other state public sector workers have had similar experiences with their disputes. The Coalition government has implemented a policy of capping public sector pay increases to 2.5% and tying pay rises to loss of working conditions.
This is hypocritical given that parliamentarians never give up working conditions when they vote for big pay increases for themselves.

However, it was not much better for state public sector workers under the previous Labor government. Workers had to fight just as hard against the Labor-imposed pay caps.

Given that state public sector workers provide a service to the community, an attack on their working conditions is a reduction in the level of service provided to the public.

When Baillieu axed thousands of jobs from the Victorian public sector, some departments lost critical knowledge. Having fewer workers also meant less service to the community as the remaining workers stretched themselves to cover the work of colleagues who were retrenched.

Six thousand jobs have been axed from the Victorian public service since December 2011. According to the CPSU website, Victoria's population has grown from 4.4 million people in 1994 to more than 5.7 million by 2014. Yet the number of people who deliver services on behalf of the government has dropped from 48,359 to 29,568 over those 20 years.

The Victorian government has also targeted construction workers, with a special code of practice for the building and construction industry in Victoria. This code applies to government-funded construction projects such as the Bendigo hospital. The code bans companies from tendering for government projects if they have an agreement with the union.
Examples of things that are banned include any limitation on the number of casual workers on site, bans on a third party, such as the union, being able to examine pay records for instances of underpayment of workers and the display of union signs and paraphernalia on site.

Since the anti-union Abbott government was elected federally, the Victorian government has not pushed as hard on its anti-union agenda on building sites. Instead, Napthine has relied on the Abbott government to police the construction unions. However, the anti-union code of practice for the building industry in Victoria still exists, and is still used to police government building projects.

The government is also downgrading the role of its workplace safety agency WorkCover. The number of WorkCover inspectors has reduced to 212 for the entire Victorian workforce, the lowest level per employee across the country.
WorkCover has also ceased to run safety campaigns with the last campaign having been run in December 2012. Last year it scrapped a safety advertisement that was ready to go.

As WorkCover has been cutting its inspector numbers, the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU) has decided to increase the number of health and safety representatives from 500 to 600 by the end of the year.

The CFMEU cites statistics which reveal that one worker is injured or dies every six minutes in construction, forestry and mining nationally — a rate that is 50% higher than for all other industries combined.

On March 12, the Victorian parliament voted to severely restrict the right to protest and picket by unions and other community groups. The Summary Offences and Sentencing Amendment Act 2014 came into effect on September 1.

This new law extends the range of circumstances in which police can issue “move on” orders to picketers and protesters. Police can now direct a person to move on if they are likely to cause an undue obstruction to another person or traffic, if they have committed any offence in the public place within the past 12 months and if they are impeding or trying to impede another person from entering or leaving a premises.

Given that pickets and blockades are designed to impede activity, so workers can defend their rights or to stop damaging projects such as the East West Link, this is a big attack on workers' rights.

The list of anti-worker laws and actions being implemented by the Napthine government demonstrates that this government only serves the interests of the corporate rich. Even the previous Labor government implemented some similar anti-worker actions, especially in its approach to state public sector workers.

It is time to stand up against these anti-worker parties of Liberal and Labor and support working class and pro-worker, pro-union parties such as Socialist Alliance.

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