Bus drivers in Darwin have held two 24-hour strikes in the last few weeks, with more that 40 drivers walking off the job to march to the NT Parliament.
The Northern Territory Country Liberal Party (CLP) is attacking public sector workers across the board. Bus drivers, teachers and other public sector workers are being offered effective pay cuts in the form of below inflation pay rises locked in for four years. At the same time there are attacks on conditions including reductions in long service leave, paid parental leave and notification times for forced redundancies.
CPSU members have voted to reject the offer as have workers covered by the ETU, United Voice, AMWU and the APESMA. These unions are all demanding pay rises in line with inflation, which is at 4 per cent in the NT.
Bus drivers are also considering further action such as refusing to take fares, and have received good support from the Darwin community. However Ken Simpson, the Commissioner for Public Employment, is refusing to budge on the pay offers. Scab drivers were pressured into working to cover the strikes.
Teachers are being slapped with the same pay offer, with proposals to cut teacher-student ratios in middle and senior schools as an added threat. At the same time, the CLP are playing divide and rule by offering increased ratios for teachers in Transition to Year 2.
Despite this, up to 100 teachers, 140 permanent support staff in the Education Department and a further 60 contract workers, could all lose their positions. Yet many schools in Aboriginal communities already have shockingly low literacy rates. This is a huge attack for the NT where the total population is the size of Wollongong.
The AEU is preparing for industrial action and workers have already held well-attended demonstrations mourning the death of education. Another public rally has been called for October 17.
While there is strong resistance in each sector, united action would be a far stronger block against these attacks. There was a strong united movement against the CLP soon after they were elected just over a year ago. Adam Giles may have replaced Terry Mills as Chief Minister, but the ideology remains the same. Workers rallying together and taking united strike action can force the government to retreat from their attacks and drive the CLP back.
By Dave Suttle