“Queensland government: blood on your hands!” It’s a Monday morning, and the cries of up to 1,000 angry Brisbane construction workers echo under the facade of 1 William Street, the extravagant $650 million government office skyscraper commissioned in the dying days of the Newman Liberal National government.
These days, however, the Palaszczuk Labor government rules this roost. Today’s CFMMEU and ETU rally, on 17 September, is about safety. The union recently chalked up a victory with the introduction of long-sought industrial manslaughter laws. Today, though, they’re demanding changes to the Workplace Health and Safety Act to give the unions more power to force the state’s safety regulator – Workplace Health and Safety Queensland – to do its job. The unions are also calling for the sacking of WHSQ director Simon Blackwood for his failure to hold cowboy employers to account over safety breaches.
Addressing the crowd, state secretary of the CFMMEU, Michael Ravbar, pledges to kick off a state-wide campaign against industrial relations minister Grace Grace (a former general secretary of the Queensland Council of Unions) if the union’s demands for improved workplace safety are not met. As the rally wraps up, construction workers begin dispersing across the city.
I barely make it a few hundred metres down the road when suddenly I am caught up in a human river of purple shirts and flags surging back towards 1 William St. The crowd swells to more than 500 workers from Together, the local branch of the Australian Services Union, representing Queensland’s public sector workers.
They are holding a one-hour stop-work to protest the government’s wage offer to public servants. Most have been offered a paltry 2.5 percent, and some in so-called “core” services – education, child safety, youth and women – have been presented with a zero percent offer. According to the union, it’s the lowest wages offer made by a Queensland state government in the history of bargaining.
“This is the first time that some of these core public servants have been on strike in more than 30 years”, Together secretary Alex Scott tells Red Flag.
As the fourth year of the Palaszczuk government rolls on, it is obvious that this government has done nothing for workers. Looking back, the differences between it and the Newman government are slim indeed.