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MP braves hostile crowd

Wednesday, 29th June, 2011

PROTEST: Public sector workers outside the office of local MP John Williams with BIC president Danny O’Connor. PROTEST: Public sector workers outside the office of local MP John Williams with BIC president Danny O’Connor.

Local MP John Williams yesterday faced an angry crowd of public servants who rallied outside his office to oppose the public sector wage freeze. 

The Member for Murray-Darling answered questions from the city’s unions leaders and disgruntled workers, with many of his responses being met with derision.

About 100 people turned up to the rally in Bromide Street including members of the public.

Local unions say the government’s changes will reduce the wages and conditions of thousands of public sector workers who will no longer have the protection of the Industrial Relations Commission.

BIC president Danny O’Connor asked Mr Williams why the Government took away the power of the IRC in wage negotiations.

“There is no removal of that independent umpire,” Mr Williams responded.

“I’m no whiz on the legislation but I’m advised it will still go before the conciliator.”

Brett Bertalli from the NSW Teachers Association asked what conditions teachers could trade off in order to receive a higher wage increase.

“Tell me in front of all the teachers here today... what conditions? Is it sick leave, is it vacation, class sizes? What condition would you like us to trade off to help your Government out?”

Mr Williams replied: “I can only go back to the nurses who most recently negotiated conditions to receive pay rises in excess of 2.5 per cent - they did that with the previous government.

“I don’t know what conditions they traded.

“I can’t tell you how this works as far as the trade offs.

“All I can say is from my point of view, if it’s not working I’ll be the first one to criticise it.”

Barrier Teachers Association president Maureen Clark told the rally spending cuts would affect the whole community and cutting conditions would hurt family life for public servants.

“Are we going to allow this to happen?” Mrs Clark asked the rally.

“No” the crowd shouted.

“What are we going to do?” Mrs Clark asked them.

“Fight,” was the clear response.

Mrs Clark said workers would have to wait 12 months after conditions were traded-off to receive their pay rises.

“It’s pay in advance for your own wage increase. Not bad, is it?”

Jim McMillan from the NSW Police Association said police supported their public sector colleagues in their fight against the legislation passed earlier this month.

The industrial changes give the government the power to stipulate wages and conditions for public servants.

“The police actually received an exemption under this legislation,” Mr McMillan said. “Next time we come up for a pay rise, we'll be in the same situation as everyone else here.”

Broken Hill ALP Branch President Darriea Turley said wage freezes would force nurses and other public servants interstate where the conditions were better - and country NSW could ill-afford the loss of workers.

“We stand side by side with the BIC on this issue,” she said.

Local Firefighter Sue Collins said losing conditions would result in fewer frontline workers who keep the community safe.

Mr O’Connor asked Mr Williams why he voted in support of the legislation. 

“I can only say that cost savings is what it’s all about,” Mr Williams said.

“You could well see another solar backflip.

“The fact is there will be an independent conciliator. I voted in support of the legislation based on the fact.” 

Mr Williams said he would support any frontline worker with a genuine case for a wage increase.

“I can take your concerns forward and I think they’ve been fairly well annunciated to the Government.”

Mr Williams blamed poor decisions by the previous Labor Government, including the 10,000 people employed by the Department of Environment and Climate Change, for the need to cut costs.

“If they were removed we could see more frontline workers out here doing their job. Those people have got in the way of progress in this state... they’re costing frontline staff.”

After about 40 minutes of responding to questions, Mr Williams returned to his office.

Speaking with the media after the meeting, Mr Williams explained why he did so.

“I think I was answering the same questions over and over again. I didn’t think there was need for me to continue answering the questions over and over again.

“That wasn’t the environment a politician likes to walk into. At least I was brave enough to go out and face them.

“I think there’s enough people who support the public sector in Broken Hill,” Mr Williams said. “The fact that it is legislated... it’s got to be tried yet.”

He said he would take forward the concerns expressed at the rally.

“I’m more than happy to advise the parliament about the protest here today. I’m more than happy to put forward their views.

He said his door was open to anyone “seriously affected” by the legislation. 

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