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Issue #1484      8 December 2010

WA hospital workers take action

On December 2, 1,000 metro hospital workers took strike action and rallied with members of the public at the office of the WA Premier Colin Barnett. The strike and rally was in protest at the state government’s intentions to privatise essential services at the new flagship Fiona Stanley public hospital due to open in 2014 and also the new Midland hospital and the planned hospital for children.

Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers’ Union assistant secretary Carolyn Smith joined nurses and hospital support workers in their condemnation of the governments plans citing previous privatisations and the effects they had on the quality of services and cleanliness in the WA public hospital system.

During those years of privatisation the public hospital system was struck with a series of dangerous infections that were attributed to the contractors cost-cutting activities. It cost the state government almost $3 million to eradicate these super bugs and forced it to bring back in-house those privatised services.

When catering services were privatised nurses were forced to complain to the contractors that the food portions were too small and patients were going hungry. Relatives were bringing in food for their loved ones to supplement their diets. At the rally there was support from several other unions involved with health and the broader union movement. UK multinational Serco is the government’s choice to provide services that are currently provided by the state system.

These services include cleaning, catering, orderlies, engineers, gardeners, patient care assistants, medical records, in fact all services under nursing (for the time being).

Serco is better known for its running of immigration detention centres as well as private prisons, traffic light cameras and they have a hand in the running of the nuclear weapons system in the UK as well as a number of other military contracts here and overseas.

They are fiercely anti-union and renowned for getting privatisation contracts at public facilities, particularly in the UK. Current wage differences between the public and private sectors in WA health institutions are as much as $160 per week in favour of the public system and this may well become the benchmark that wages will be pushed down to.

Currently the public system’s essential services are fully integrated and part of a team that provides patient-focused care. If they are privatised the focus will shift to a profit-driven system that will spell staff cuts and a health system pushed down to a price, not built up to a standard. Several members of the CPA attended and over 200 flyers were handed out and party flags were in full view and well received.  

Next article – Denmark refuses to handle Australian toxic waste

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