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Issue #1477      20 October 2010

WA’s struggle against health privatisation

On October 12 there was a strike in Perth by government hospital workers led by the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers’ Union (LHMU). About 700 metropolitan hospital orderlies, kitchen workers, sterilisation technicians, gardeners, patient care assistants, store workers and cleaners took part in a four hour strike to send a message to the Barnett government and its mouth pieces in the health department, that their pay offer of 3.5 percent for three years and their long term plans to privatise thousands of essential service jobs is an insult.

Over a thousand workers took part state wide. This represents over 80 percent of the work force on shift on the day throughout the state. Whilst money is important, the line in the sand is the contracting out of the above mentioned services. In the current EBA we have a clause that specifically prevents privatisation of government hospital support services. This clause is one of the main items that the government seeks to remove from us.

Privatisation of essential services will mean not only a deterioration of wages and conditions but represents an attack on the public system itself. How are essential service jobs going to be redefined in the context of making a profit for private investors? In order to make money the contractors will have to at least match the current cost of these services to get the contract so the only conceivable way to make money is to cut numbers of staff, wages and conditions as well as some services in total.

Public hospitals are run on a team approach to health care. We have coordinated and integrated systems of professionals from surgeons to physios to cleaners and all in between as well as allied services that are focused on the patient and their total care. The public hospitals have suffered funding cuts from both parties but still come up with the best health outcomes. Even the most expensive private hospitals send us their patients when things go wrong or are too difficult.

The bottom line is it is not the government’s toy to mess around with, it is yours, mine, ours. We are all potential consumers of the public health care system services. It is dependable, professional, accountable and it belongs to us all. We must demand that it remain in public hands and be built up to a standard, not down to a price.

The strikers rallied outside Parliament House and were addressed by Carolyn Smith and David Kelly from the LHMU, ALP politicians Roger Cook and Eric Ripper and current Health Minister, Kim Hames. Hames reiterated his lousy pay offer as if it were something fantastic and is going to keep his plans to privatise, all this while announcing an $831 million surplus which was robbed from workers and poor people as well as pensioners with huge increases in utility prices.

The same politicians that inflict this pain gave themselves obscene pay rises and employed more bureaucrats to push their agenda. The LHMU is continuing its public campaign against privatisation by holding Town Hall meetings to raise the issue directly with the public. Hospital workers vowed to continue the fight to defend public property from the marauding bandit Hames and his business buddies.

The workers also voted to put back in place the mild bans on moving rubbish and linen and picking up trays (things that will inconvenience management, not harm patients).On Thursday the LHMU were called back into the Industrial Relations Commission where the health department presented a weak case to have the bans lifted. The commissioner made no instant decision and we believe the bans will remain and the government will try to end the bargaining period and then attempt to force full arbitration in order to win in the IRC. The struggle will continue. 

Next article – Sharing the benefits of economic development

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