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Issue #1553      27 June 2012

Campaign to defend workers’ comp intensifies

NSW trade unions have vowed to continue campaigning against draconian new laws that slash the rights and entitlements of sick and injured workers. There has been an 11th hour amendment in which injured workers will no longer be able to claim their legal costs in WorkCover disputes even if they win.

The state government’s workers compensation cuts were passed by the NSW Parliament last week, with only minor amendments that fail to address the concerns of working people across the state.

“We will continue to campaign against the O’Farrell government’s attack on sick and injured workers in workplaces and communities across the State,” Unions NSW secretary, Mark Lennon said.

“The O’Farrell government is plunging the state into industrial chaos. Until they end this war on working people further industrial action cannot be ruled out.”

Mr Lennon, said the government’s legislation was the catalyst for the firefighters’ action last week - the first such strike in 56 years. Their action has seen the government exclude them from the legislation (see below).

“Firefighters run into burning buildings when everyone else is running out. As a community we need to extend the best possible support to heroic frontline workers who put their life on the line every single day.

“Our campaign now intensifies – politically and industrially.”

The Premier’s claim that his attack on workers compensation is not retrospective shows that he does not understand the law he is introducing, Mr Lennon said.

Even the Chair of the Committee inquiring into workers compensation change, Liberal MP, Mark Speakman has expressed concerns about the scheme’s retrospectivity.

The proposed act states very clearly at Schedule 12, clause 3: Except as provided by this part of the regulation, amendment made by the 2012 amending act extends to an injury received before the commencement of the amendment.

“This is cruel, retrospective legislation that pulls the rug from under sick and injured workers. We know of specific cases where grieving widows who were set to seek compensation for nervous shock will now be denied the right to even make a claim.”

O’Farrell rolled

Statement United Fire Brigade Employees’ Union:

“ ‘If you think I am angry, you are right,’ thundered Premier O’Farrell. Unfortunately for O’Farrell and his government, the hundreds of striking firefighters with their appliances outside Parliament were proof that he was not alone.

“Ordinarily, bills of this sort of complexity are tabled for several weeks to allow the Opposition and others the opportunity to properly review them but this rotten government, knowing just how crook its reforms really were, rammed them through within two short days. The government set the timetable, not us. If O’Farrell hadn’t tried to ram through these reforms overnight, we would have been able to meet with them and work through the issues without the need to strike.

“O’Farrell also slammed the strike as “one of the most irresponsible actions I have ever heard of by a public sector union in the history of this State” – a big call by any measure. What the Premier did not know was that it would soon become one of the more successful actions by a public sector union when, at 0230 hours, Parliament voted to exclude firefighters and paramedics from the reforms.

“The union welcomes Parliament’s decision to exempt us from these savage new laws, but insists they must still be scrapped for all workers. The FBEU will continue to wholeheartedly back Unions NSW, other affiliates and the broader labour movement in the ongoing campaign to defend sick and injured workers in this state.

“It was also widely misreported that we have been ordered not to strike for the next three months and further, that the union’s officials have agreed to this. The somewhat different truth is that the Industrial Relations Commission made an Award which requires that if we do strike again within the next three months, that skeleton staffing is to be provided.

“The decision to strike without skeleton crews was a difficult one. The State Committee did not recommend it, nor did the members vote to support it, lightly. But our decision was vindicated by the result.

“Congratulations again to all members, and particularly to the hundreds of members who stopped work. Make no mistake, the media attention that your action generated fuelled the political pressure that followed. Every firefighter who, from this day on, suffers a workplace injury (a regrettably inevitable fact of life in our profession) is now in your debt. The Union’s Fighting Fund will again provide financial relief for striking members whose pays are docked.

“While we can be rightly proud as a union that through strong action we have been able to successfully defend our existing workers compensation rights, members should remain mindful that further attacks are coming. The O’Farrell government is busy shifting the wealth of the state from those who work for a living to the top end of town. That’s why they’ve attacked workers comp, why they’ve slashed our budget and why they’re slashing wages. We’ve won this round only.”  

Next article – Union call time on growth of casual employment in universities

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