The O’Farrell Government’s attack on workers’ compensation rights dominated the afternoon session of the first day of NSW Labor’s state conference.
Earlier, NSW Opposition Leader John Robertson committed a future State Labor Government to the wholesale repeal of the Coalition’s cutbacks.
An urgency resolution – moved by Unions NSW Secretary Mark Lennon and calling for the restoration of fair and just entitlements - prompted an emotional debate that highlighted the uncertain future that injured workers now face.
In seconding the motion, the Finance Sector Unions’ Geoff Derrick welcomed Mr Robertson’s pledge to reverse the cuts and called on delegates to dig in for a long campaign.
“We will campaign for as long as it takes to defeat O’Farrell’s version of Work Choices, just as we did with John Howard,” Mr Derrick said.
Counting the cost
Mr Derrick told the story of an FSU member and bank worker, injured in the course of an armed robbery whose claim was rejected by the employer.
“She was bashed during the hold up. The robbers stomped on her back. The psychological damage was lasting and intense.
“After she was eventually terminated, she had to fight in court for compensation. Under the O’Farrell legislation she’d have to pay for the cost of the lawyers and psychiatrists,” he said.
It was a theme picked up by many speakers – that by shifting the onus to pay from employer to employees – many injured workers could simply not afford to contest disputed claims against well-resourced employers.
CFMEU’s Rita Mallia said the lessons of history provided hope for the future.
“It took a Labor Government in 1926 to introduce NSW’s first system of payment for injured workers. And it will take a strong Labor Government if we want to recover these workplace rights,” she said.
Income management, a new economic index to measure Australian’s wellbeing and threats to the public service all featured in the evening’s economic policy debate.
Federal Government moves to extend income management - styled on measures introduced in the Northern Territory Intervention - to parts of Western Sydney, received short shrift from Left and Right delegates alike.
ASU’s Sally McManus claimed the proposal – rejected by almost sixty local community and charitable organisations – would have little effect other than to stigmatise the poor.
The Right’s Russ Collison was incensed. “This is not traditional Labor,” he said. “Labor does not do this to our people.”
United Voice chief Louise Tarrant spruiked the idea of an Australian Wellbeing Index as an alternative economic measurement to GDP, while CPSU’s Nadine Flood highlighted the threats that the current vogue in austerity posed to public sector employees.
The afternoon’s business also included sessions focusing on local government and a report from the State Policy Forum.