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Issue #1606      August 14, 2013

WA State Public Service Rally to save the public sector

In the lead up to the presentation of the State Budget to the WA parliament on August 8, the Community and Public Sector Union/Civil Service Association decided to hold a rally of its members and also invite the broader union movement and community.

After announcements in late June, in which the Treasurer Troy Buswell and Premier Colin Barnett let State Parliament known that they thought there were lots of public servants who were past their use by date, the union knew that they needed to rally their members in the defence of their jobs, salaries and conditions.

At lunchtime on August 6, on a mild wet day, with umbrellas in hand, a thousand public servants and their supporters made their way to the State Parliament for the rally to defend their jobs and the services which they knew were valued by the community.

On the steps of Parliament House CPSU/CSA branch secretary Toni Walkington addressed the rally. “Transparency in government has died,” declared Walkington as she described the attitude of the government as it sought to privatise, contract out and simply stop providing some services.

Walkington also stated that 6,000 jobs had been lost in the public service. In the last 10 years it has grown at half the rate of the private sector due to government limits. “Instead of denigrating the public service, they should be supporting the public service.”

To demonstrate the support the work of public servants has in the community, a petition with 6,000 signatures calling on the government to halt its plans to cut the public service, was presented to parliament.

The rally heard from a number of public sector workers whose workplaces had felt the impact of the Barnett government’s push for redundancies and privatisation. The first was Colin; a Community Social Trainer from the Disability Services Commission (DSC) who was among 30 workers in 2011 told their jobs would be cut – despite a need still existing for the work which they performed.

Their work included teaching people with an intellectual disability how to acquire the life skills necessary to live independent and fulfilling lives, including how to read, write, arithmetic, shopping and home skills. The next worker was a Local Area Co-ordinator from DSC, Jeanette, whose job it was to liaise with service providers and families of people with intellectual disabilities to ensure these people have access to resources within the community including Community Social Trainers such as Colin.

Jeanette and Colin were both slated to lose their jobs to not-for-profit organisations who the government believed could do the same job at less cost. However, the government was yet to come up with a provider whose employees have the skills, experience and qualities to take over from the workers in the public sector.

Belinda, a Community Corrections Officer from the Department of Corrective Services, spoke of her desire to join the public service in a capacity where she could make a difference in the community by providing opportunities for offenders to change their behaviour while they are sentenced prisoners. The government has provided such low levels of funding that very few programs are available, “ ... the only thing offenders learn in prison is how to become better criminals.”

Assistant branch secretary Rikki Hendon added that workloads in the Child Protection Agency had blown out to such levels that even the Industrial Relations Commission had found to be too high for workers to be able to adequately protect children in the agency’s care.

Other unions with members in the public sector were represented at the rally, including United Voice, Prison Officers Union and the State School Teachers Union. They pledged their support for the struggle ahead.

Laying siege to public sector

On Thursday August 8, the state Treasurer Troy Buswell delivered his budget to the Parliament of Western Australia.

The budge has imposed a number of increases in fees and charges and even imposed new charges. The first home buyers’ subsidy for established homes aimed at stimulating construction, was cut.

Untouched of course are the extravagant infrastructure projects of the Elizabeth Quay and the Burswood Stadium, while the timetable of the light rail project is pushed further out.

Less people working means less revenue for the state over the medium to longer term. The public sector unions envisage larger rallies to demand change to the government’s austerity measures.

The Communist Party of Australia recognises that a strong public sector can give people better, more reliable and cheaper services and more control over the economy.

The CPA defends public sector jobs and opposes the sell off or contracting out of their management to private corporations.   

Next article – Film review – For Marx (Za Marksa)

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