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Protestors tell Premier ‘You ain’t seen nothin’ yet’

Friday, 9th September, 2011

PASSIONATE: Teachers Federation Organiser Brett Bertalli leads the crowd in song in the Town Square yesterday. PASSIONATE: Teachers Federation Organiser Brett Bertalli leads the crowd in song in the Town Square yesterday.

By Darrin Manuel

Broken Hill’s public sector workers and unionists have added their voices to the state-wide chorus of discontent aimed at NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell and his proposed industrial relations reforms.

Locals sang, clapped, cheered and jeered throughout an hour-long protest in the town square yesterday to expressing their anger at the NSW Government’s plan to cap salary increases at 2.5 per cent - a figure well below the inflation rate of 3.6 per cent.

The protest attracted a broad cross-section of the city’s public services sector, with public school and TAFE teachers, nurses, police and firefighters all joining in.

The gathering was led by Barrier Teachers Association President, Maureen Clark, who said the reforms proposed by Mr O’Farrell amounted to nothing more than a pay cut.

She predicted the wage cap would cost teachers around $70 a week over four years and lead to a deterioration in public services.

The Government would then blame the public sector workers for this decline in quality and force them to work longer and harder for less pay, she said.

Officer Jim McMillan of the Police Union and Bonnie Tavian of the Nurses’ Union joined Ms Clark in opposing the legislation, and stressed the importance of public sector workers remaining united.

Ms Tavian said that the cuts could result in a worse nurse-to-patient ratio, a reduction in leave, and difficulty in attracting and retaining staff.

“Broken Hill offers heaps of services that rural towns don’t normally have, but if we can’t get staff out of here for these services then the community is in jeopardy of losing these things,” she said.

The day’s rhetoric was interspersed with union songs performed by the Broken Hill Community Singers, and an entertaining turn by Ms Clark as “Farry O’Barrel”.

Ms Clark donned a dunce’s cap and lampooned the Premier, welcoming the many “wage slaves” to the town square and thanking them for funding her trip to the city with their taxpayer dollars.

Mr “O’Barrel” was roundly booed and jeered by the crowd, before he joined Teachers Federation Organiser Brett Bertalli in singing “We’ve got the worst Premier in the world”.

Ms Clark said the hundreds of “spirited” people at the rally showed that the proposed legislation was a concern for people in all walks of life.

“Obviously there are public sector workers in all sections of the community who are very, very angry and very frightened about what this legislation can do in the future to their wages, and the conditions that they are working under,” she said.

“If you harm our conditions, what you are doing is harming the services that we can provide to the public. So the public is going to become disadvantaged, and they are going to become angry.”

Yesterday Mr O’Farrell dismissed the State-wide protests as “pointless” and “chaos for the sake of chaos”.

Ms Clark advised him to get used to the sight of protests, and predicted significant public fallout should he push ahead with the legislation.

“Barry O’Farrell better watch out at the next election because it’s not just unionists and public sector workers who will be asking him to explain.

“This is just the start for Barry, the start of the opposition and the protest. He hasn’t seen anything yet.”

After the protest Ms Clark said she felt locals would be encouraged in their fight for better conditions, and hoped they would raise the issue with local politicians.

“I think today people are going to go away from here with renewed spirit, and perhaps a little fired up to maybe do something more about it, maybe take their protests a little bit further,” she said.

“I’m hoping that we will have a lot of members of the public who are aware of just what is going to happen to their services down the track, and who are going to be in touch with their local MP to ensure he does something about persuading O’Farrell to overturn this legislation.”

Protests were held elsewhere across the State yesterday, with over 30,000 people marching on Parliament House in Sydney.

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