Coffs workers choose protest over choices
By BELINDA SCOTT
THREE hundred in Coffs Harbour, 12,000 in Brisbane, 40,000 in Sydney and 150,000 in Melbourne.
Coffs Coast workers joined the thousands of people across Australia who rallied yesterday in a union-organised national day of protest against the Federal Government's latest round of industrial relations changes.
Yesterday's Coffs Coast rally at Coffs Harbour's Brelsford Park united retirees and workers, students and teachers, teenagers and parents from as far afield as Grafton and Port Macquarie, in voicing passionate opposition to the new laws and their fears for the future.
Billed by Unions NSW organisers as an event putting the 'Spotlight' back on the Howard Government, the rally crowd cheered Coffs Harbour Spotlight worker Annette Harris, who is still on holidays in Queensland, for speaking out against AWAs now being offered which remove award conditions for workers.
Among yesterday's crowd was Rick Purton, whose teenage daughter works with Mrs Harris at Spotlight, under award conditions.
"Our kids don't know what the future holds," said the father of eight children. "This legislation gives the employer free rein. I've told her not to sign anything."
"We don't like the outlook of having children when we don't even have a future ourselves," said young Nambucca Heads supermarket workers Julie Mackay and Corinne Macken.
"The crux of the problem is the removal of the no-disadvantage test (under the new laws)," said Coffs Harbour high school commerce, business and legal studies teacher Dick Braithwaite.
"Anyone not in a strong bargaining position is disadvantaged.
"It is an ideological attack on unionism and the average Australian worker."
Mr Braithwaite said he had written to the Federal member for Cowper, Luke Hartsuyker, on the issue and Mr Hartsuyker had replied that he was happy to stand on the government's record.
While many workers said they took paid or unpaid leave or used time in lieu to attend the rally, Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) organiser 'Bluey' Menon said forestry workers had been discouraged from attending by bosses.
Protesting yesterday was ruled illegal for Australia Post workers unless they had earlier sought leave, after Australia Post complained the union representing the workers was inciting staff to walk off the job and the Federal Industrial Relations Commission upheld the complaint.
NSW Labor MLC Greg Donnelly reminded the crowd at Coffs Harbour the state Liberal and National parties were on record as saying they would hand control of State IR legislation to the Commonwealth if elected next year.
All three Mid North Coast state seats of Clarence, Coffs Harbour and Oxley are currently held by the National Party.
The NSW and WA Labor governments last week raised the weekly minimum wage by $20 to $504.40 for the relatively small number of workers in those states not covered by the Federal Government's WorkChoices, mainly staff in small businesses.