About 1500 of the State’s lowest paid workers marched to the front steps of Premier Colin Barnett’s new offices in Hale House this morning in the biggest rally yet in their campaign for better pay.
Shrugging off a failed 11th-hour bid in the Industrial Relations Commission last night by the Government to stop the rally and despite a letter from the Premier vowing not privatise any more hospital services, support staff and cleaners in public hospitals and schools vowed to continue their fight.
Chanting “we paid for the palace” in reference to the moniker given by Labor to the Premier’s Palace, the crowd pushed past about seven police officers in a line blocking the driveway to reach the front steps.
With chants of “come out Colin” and “we want Colin”, they then dropped newspaper-style rolled up papers with messages for the Premier at the front door.
“We’re back, we’re bigger, we’re louder and we’re stronger,” United Voice assistant secretary Carolyn Smith declared earlier to loud cheers from the crowd.
“This Government paid $25 million to refurbish this office. Colin already had an office just down on St Georges Terrace. Has he got his priorities wrong?”
Mr Barnett said in a statement this afternoon that the Government was sympathetic to the situation of these workers and had been negotiating with United Voice for a new wage deal for hospital and school support workers since May and August respectively.
“Health and Education are bargaining in good faith with a view to each providing these two separate groups of workers with a fair wage increases,” he said.
“Negotiations for hospital workers are now taking place before the WA Industrial Relations Commission, which is assisting the parties in trying to come to an agreement.
“These negotiations are not being assisted by an overtly political campaign by United Voice alleging that the Government has some secret privatisation agenda. This is despite assurances provided to the union confirming there are no such plans.”
Mr Barnett said the Government was keen to see two new wage deals for hospital and education support workers as soon as possible.
“United Voice is urged to negotiate constructively because I’m sure its members, along with the Government, would like to see this resolved before the end of the year,” he said.
Ms Smith said at a meeting with Mr Barnett two weeks ago there had been no change in the Government’s offer of a $22 a week pay rise, or 3.75 per cent, for education workers.
However, she hailed as a victory for their campaign a letter from Mr Barnett emailed last night in which he promised not to privatise any extra services in hospitals.
“This is a huge step,” she said. “He signed this letter and made this public declaration, which doesn’t meant he won’t but makes it much harder for him, because of you, because of the campaign you have run.”
High school cleaner Brett Clements, who earned $47,000 a year as the cleaner-in-charge, said he had had enough of the Government ignoring low-paid workers.
He said under the current offer, cleaners would earn an extra 72 cents an hour.
“For cleaners that do three hours a day, which is a lot of us, they get an extra $2 a day,” he said.
Shenton Campus patient care Assistant Mark Hayward said at $43,000 a year workers like him earned a pittance and yet were very dedicated to their jobs.
“Let’s give them a push,” he said.
The rally voted to give the union committees power to decide on work bans, while backing further rallies to continue the campaign.