Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

WA: Barnett government announces job losses, pay cuts and privatisation

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Against the backdrop of a slowing economy the Western Australian state government led by Colin Barnett is proposing a series of cuts to the public sector.

By Sean Moore

Against the backdrop of a slowing economy the Western Australian state government led by Colin Barnett is proposing a series of cuts to the public sector.

Alongside cuts to public services, outsourcing and privatisations, hundreds of jobs will be slashed (200 forced and 1000 voluntary redundancies) and a new wage policy aimed at driving down wages will be implemented. Around 500 jobs in education will be the first to go.

Just before the state election in March 2013 Barnett said “I want to make it very clear that there are no cuts, proposed or planned, for staffing within the public sector – none at all”. A mere 3 months later and the government have found a budget ‘black hole’ totaling $2 billion. Barnett has decided that ordinary people will be forced to pay the price.

After canning several of his election promises including a rail link and a promise that there would be no forced local government amalgamations, he said “I don’t think people study the promises”. After winning the state election in a landslide he has already become very unpopular.

After the election Barnett granted his own political staff a pay rise of up to 54% while at the same time offering public sector employees a measly 2.4%. With cost of living increasing this is effectively a pay cut in real terms.

At the same time Barnett is changing the law in order to give the government the power to limit public sector pay rises as well as the ability to introduce forced public sector redundancies.

The outsourcing and privatisation of services has already started with the Department of Transport being one of the first areas targeted. Truck driving assessment tests have already been outsourced to private driving schools on a trial basis.

Driving assessors have taken industrial action on three occasions in an attempt to stop the trial but more widespread and determined action will be required to push the government back.

The union leaders have set up the Save Our Services (SOS) campaign but this campaign is run in a top down way with very little input from workers themselves. To be effective a campaign against public sector cuts needs to be based in the workplaces. Coordinated industrial action at a workplace level is what the government fears the most.

In order to facilitate this, delegates from all the public sector unions need to come together to plan the campaign. Alongside material explaining the issues the delegates need to name a date for a 24-hour state-wide public sector strike and demonstration.

The key demand of the strike should be the withdrawal of all public sector cuts, jobs losses and plans for privatisation. The budget ‘black hole’ could easily be filled if big businesses, including the mining giants, paid an appropriate amount of tax on their profits. Much more of society’s wealth could in fact be utilized if more of the economy was in public hands and run to address people’s needs.

Side by side with fighting the cuts the trade union movement needs to fight for an alternative to the profit driven system. To do this effectively we will need to break from the two party duopoly of Liberal and Labor and create a new workers party.


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