'Sick of the axe': NE workers stage protest

FORTY angry disability workers protested in Wangaratta yesterday over proposed cuts to wages and conditions.

They were drawn from across the North East to rally outside member for Murray Valley Tim McCurdy’s office in Murphy Street.

“The reason they’re coming here is because they’re sick and tired of this state government taking the axe to their rights and conditions around their work,” union spokesman Stephen Norris said.

The Health and Community Services Union Victorian organiser said a three-hour stoppage over the progress of enterprise bargaining negotiations had been notified under the Fair Work Act, starting from midday.

But the action — which included a protest outside the Wangaratta Department of Human Services office — ran from 1pm to 2pm to allow travel time for the workers.

The protesters were drawn from Wodonga, Myrtleford, Beechworth, Wangaratta, Benalla and Shepparton.

Mr Norris said the government was looking at removing the ability of workers to negotiate their rosters.

“They’re going to have to spend more days at work to undertake their contracted hours,” he said.

The union argues many workers stand to lose thousands of dollars a year because of proposed cuts to qualifications and shift allowances, plus the axing of pay increments.

Mr Norris said a similar protest a couple of years ago might have attracted only half of yesterday’s turnout.

“That really does show our members’ level of interest in this,” he said.

“They want to maintain current work conditions and then build on top of those.

“The general wage offer will take workers backwards across the board, and that’s for workers already recognised as among the most poorly paid in our workforce.”

The department has 335 disability workers across the Wangaratta and Hume region.

Mr Norris said a decent percentage of the workers’ action was about their clients, not just their own conditions.

“They know that they have a job to do,” he said.

“But when it does come down to an EBA bargaining round where the government is wanting to cut as much as possible out of their workplace conditions, that makes our members angry.”

Protesters outside Tim McCurdy’s office at Wangaratta yesterday, as part of a stoppage over proposed cuts.

Protesters outside Tim McCurdy’s office at Wangaratta yesterday, as part of a stoppage over proposed cuts.