NSW disability support workers have defied a legal order to strike for 24 hours, in a bid to halt the state government’s callous privatisation push.

The industrial tribunal had earlier ordered the union to cancel the industrial action. The Public Service Association, the union representing the workers, decided to go ahead with an illegal strike on 14 February and risk the potential fine.

Several hundred workers rallied and marched on Parliament House, chanting “NSW not for sale”.

“For the workers it means a lot less conditions and pay, $20,000 a year probably,” said Trevor Cochrane, a union delegate in a group home in Castle Hill. “What that represents is less security, so it means less continuity with the care of the clients, whereas now with the government service we have staff working with clients 15-20 years.”

The government is aiming to privatise services employing over 6000 workers across the state by 2018, forcing the workers into the lower-paid not-for-profit (NFP) and private sector. It is cynically using the national rollout of the NDIS as cover for the privatisation by claiming this will provide more choice for patients.

But there will be no choice for patients who want to stay in government run services with carers that have looked after them for years, they will have to face the market.

The government is providing workers only a two-year job guarantee, which means they can be sacked immediately after that. There is no guarantee of current wages and conditions so penalty rates, shift allowances and other benefits will be cut as organisations face the pressures of the competitive NDIS market.

The vast majority of workers are employed in NFP organisations, but these are under the same competitive pressures as for-profits and squeeze their workers in the same ways. Trevor said that many experienced staff will leave disability services because of the worse conditions.

“There’s a lot of casual employment out there in the private and NFP sector rather than permanent, so the client will see one staff member one week, and then another the next week,” Trevor said.

Trevor said this strike was just the beginning, with the government aiming to complete its privatisation drive by the middle of next year. Disability services all across the country are facing privatisation.

“Assuming this state falls to privatisation in disability services, the other states will probably follow,” he said. “But if we can reverse it now, there’s a chance it will become a precedent.”

By Miro Sandev

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