The big orange bus just reached the end of the road. This past five weeks the 14 tonne vehicle has crisscrossed 5,500kms of New South Wales promoting the rights of workers, black and white.
The Rights at Work bus has been employed by Unions NSW to travel up hill and down dale in a campaign against the Howard Government’s proposed industrial relations changes.
I have been charting its progress, courtesy of the e-letter, Workers Online, a regular drop into my inbox.
Workers Online says the bus was meant to leave more than awareness behind ... and it appears it did. Thousands of workers attended meetings convened in more than 40 regional towns. There are now about 40 local campaign committees working to organise the fight against Howard’s proposed IR revolution. Workers Online says trade unionism is emerging publicly for the first time in many decades in many conservative country towns.
One hopes it’s true.
The bus was even blessed in Bathurst. Local preacher Adrian Horgan was so outraged by Telstra’s treatment of its call centre staff he cut a radio advertisement to promote the travelling Rights At Work campaign. He was on hand when the bus pulled into Bathurst along with a host of workers who detailed a litany of complaints about not being able to access sick leave under a new Australian workplace agreement.
They included one woman who turned up for work after being denied sick leave, only to collapse on the job. That leg of the trip started in Sydney and wound its way down to Wollongong, down the coast to Merimbula, then back up the mountain, through Cooma, Queanbeyan and Goulburn.
One of the passengers, Nathan Brown, reported encountering people “... as diverse as the land we travelled through”.
“Teachers, nurses, retirees, casual workers, council workers, dock workers and warehouse workers were some of the people that had turned up to the meetings,” he said.
“The feeling from everyone who spoke and attended the meetings was that they had not voted for the changes. In electorates dominated by conservatives, people wanted to know why their representatives were pushing ahead with reforms that weren’t even mentioned before they went to the ballot boxes.
“Unfortunately, no Coalition members turned up to the meetings, despite being invited: ‘prior arrangements’ was the main reason given.”
I don’t know if an invitation went to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Kevin Andrews, the bloke charged with selling the new IR regime. Doubtless an apology would have been tendered. Kevin’s a busy man. As noted in the National Indigenous Times he recently had the honour of presenting the Bennelong Medal to incoming ALP president, Warren Mundine.
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