As you probably know, right wing governments in NSW and Queensland are attacking the wages, conditions and jobs of working people, particularly in the public sector.
The latest attack on working people in NSW was an attempt by the O’Farrell government to introduce competitive unionism in NSW, to set teachers and against principals, nurses against midwives and one government department against the other.
Though the legislation was talked about publicly in terms of allowing paramedics and junior doctors to break from the trouble-plagued Health Services Union (HSU), the real intent of the O’Farrell government was to undermine union solidarity by setting unions against each other.
Under the free-for-all proposed by the O’Farrell government, any two unions would be able to go head to head during enterprise bargaining or award negotiations. Employers would be able to foster new unions in order to undermine industrial representation.
Almost inevitably, the only winner when two unions attack each other in the same industrial environment, as we have seen in the United States, is employers.
The other intended impact of the legislation was, as my colleague John Kaye said during the debate, to “reduce the size of many unions and as a result diminish their economic and industrial power, and weaken their capacity to bargain for their members.”
The government wanted its competitive unionism legislation to apply across the board to unions in NSW.
But the Greens successfully amended the legislation so that it only applied to paramedics and junior doctors, for a twelve month period, and added retrospectivity to cover the paramedics’ current application before the Industrial commission.
With this amendment the Greens prevented the O’Farrell government’s ideological attempt to undermine union solidarity, while still allowing junior doctors and paramedics the ability to leave the troubled Health Services Union (HSU) and be represented by another organisation.
For the better part of a decade, paramedics and junior doctors have been voting with their feet and joining the EMSPA (Emergency Medical Service Protection Association) and the ASMOF (Australian Salaried Medical Officers’ Federation). Both groups are deeply unsatisfied with the representation they have received from the HSU.
The Greens’ amendment recognises these facts and gives these professions the chance to have a distinct industrial voice.
The ferocity of attacks by the O’Farrell government on workers in NSW has been severe. Public sector workers are losing their jobs, their wages and their conditions. Almost all workers in NSW have had their workers compensation entitlements slashed.
In this political environment it is more important than ever for people to join together and take collective action against the blindly pro-market dictates of conservative governments.
The successful strike action by fire-fighters earlier this year and now this successful outcome from a dedicated campaign by paramedics and junior doctors are clear evidence of what can be achieved when workers organise collectively.
The Greens are glad to have been involved in these successful campaigns, and to have been able to play a small part in achieving these outcomes.
We will continue to work, both inside and outside parliament, alongside workers and unions, to stand up for workers rights’ in NSW and deliver progressive outcomes.
Media comment by Greens MP and Industrial Relations spokesperson David Shoebridge:
“These amendments were important to protect unions from the O’Farrell’s ideological attack in the form of competitive unionism.
“The O’Farrell government’s plan was to have unions fighting amongst themselves, setting teachers against headmasters, nurses against midwives and one government department against the other.
“The Greens recognise that paramedics and junior doctors have a legitimate case to seek separate representation from the disgraced HSU and we moved amendments to allow that to happen.
“However the Greens were not going to be part of the O’Farrell government’s ideological attack on all unions and we limited the operation of the Act to paramedics and junior doctors
“Importantly the Greens amendments applied the changes retrospectively so that they cover the paramedic’s current application before the Industrial Commission.
“In the current political environment it is more important than ever that unions remain strong enough to protect their members’ rights from the cuts and job losses delivered by right wing governments,” Mr Shoebridge said.