Queensland Premier Campbell Newman’s attacks are coming so thick and fast it’s hard to keep up. He is continuing to launch cut after cut to the public and community sector in the lead up to the budget, which will no doubt feature even more austerity.
Forty five Townsville nurses lost their job in one week alone, and the preventative disease unit of the Health department has already gone.
All 23 tenant organisations in Queensland will close if they can’t replace their government funding, while state-owned caravan parks are being sold and elderly residents booted out.
More than 8000 public servants have now lost their jobs, leaving CBD buildings empty.
Queensland’s unemployment rate has already climbed to 5.8 per cent from 5.2 per cent in April, a rise of more than 13,000. This is despite predictions that Queensland’s unemployment rate had been set to fall.
Newman’s LNP have used their unfettered power in parliament to legislate waves of harsh attacks on union rights.
Under Queensland’s enterprise bargaining system, strikes and industrial action of any kind are only legal during the period that new agreements are being negotiated. Now, for workers who are in negotiations who could strike—such as core agency public servants, ambulance officers, firefighters, teachers and others—new laws require strict and time-consuming Electoral Commission ballots to be won before any action can be taken.
At the same time, the government have made their “first and final” offer to workers: real wage decreases, loss of conditions and union rights. They plan to achieve this by moving most of this content out of enterprise bargaining agreements and into departmental policy, meaning it would require no negotiation to be changed and could be stripped away at any time.
When Together, the union representing core public servants, offered to take pay freezes in return for union rights, conditions and job security clauses, the government managed to wipe that offer from the table by passing new legislation to extract job security and contracting-out clauses from all agreements.
Even workers who’ve already signed agreements have been thrown into the same boat, as the new laws are retrospective and render clauses in all existing agreements null and avoid. Predictably, only the police are excluded. Essential service workers, like nurses and health practitioners, are furious.
Despite the new laws and the government’s propaganda campaign against “public service fat cats”, more than 500 applications for protected industrial action were successfully lodged with the Electoral Commission by core public servants alone. For workers like residential care officers for people with a disability, this would have been the first strike action in their industry in decades.
But in another display of sheer ruthlessness, Newman rendered all those applications invalid by convincing the Industrial Relations Commission to force these unions into arbitration.
It’s clear to many unionists that bad laws are meant to be broken. Illegal strikes should now well and truly be on the table. The leadership to push this, however, still needs to be created.
The Queensland Council of Unions day of action on September 12 has been billed as a strike day thanks to a motion from the floor at a delegates meeting, but in reality some building sites will stop and other workers will attend in their lunch breaks. It will take a determined rank-and-file push to get the strike action that will be necessary to hurt Newman.
New TV ads by Together are attempting to tap into a the “remorseful LNP voter” demographic but to what end? Newman’s popularity has already fallen 50 per cent in three months. It is designed to be part of a “long haul” campaign to get Labor back into government in six or nine years, by which time the public service will already be decimated.
The success of new campaign group Queensland Uncut is very promising for the fightback and shows where the inspiration can come from to force the union leaders into more action.
In August, more than 1200 people sat in the street and blockaded traffic in the CBD, chanting “LNP, they don’t care, they represent the billionaires” and “No ifs, no buts, no lies, no cuts!”