Disability workers rally for rights

Unionists rally outside Bill Tilley’s office in Wodonga yesterday. Picture: MATTHEW SMITHWICK
Unionists rally outside Bill Tilley’s office in Wodonga yesterday. Picture: MATTHEW SMITHWICK

ABOUT 50 disability workers yesterday held a noisy street protest rally in Wodonga as part of a union campaign to protect their wages and conditions.

The Health and Community Services Union organised the event outside the office of member for Benambra Bill Tilley, who was in Melbourne on parliamentary business.

Clad in orange shirts, the unionists from Wodonga, Wangaratta, Myrtleford, Beechworth and Benalla chanted their demands on the footpath but the protest was orderly and good-humoured despite them losing three hours’ pay.

All are employed by the Victorian Department of Human Services and work in residential homes for people with disabilities.

The union claims they are among the most poorly paid people in the workforce and can’t afford to see wages and conditions go backwards.

It says the department’s Hume region employs 335 support workers, including 181 part-timers and 71 casuals.

The lead organiser, Stephen Norris, told the rally that the three-hour stoppage wouldn’t have put any residents at risk but the union was forced to take some action as negotiations with the state government were getting nowhere.

“Bill Tilley and other MPs should speak up for the disability workers,” he said.

Wangaratta unionist Tim Bright and Melbourne-based organiser Asha Riehl supported the protest.

They said it was not only about wages and conditions but about the ultimate effect the changes would have on clients by reducing care.

State secretary Lloyd Williams backed the protest, warning that many of the workers stood to lose thousands of dollars due to proposed cuts in qualification allowances and pay increments.

“With an ageing workforce there are already major challenges,” he said.

“Without a stable, well-trained workforce you don’t have staff who know their client’s needs. These changes will hit clients hard because the continuity of care will be lost.”