Essential Service Workers Take Action on Two Fronts
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What have contracted out water utilities workers in South Australia employed by Allwater and contract cleaners employed by Limro Cleaning at Parliament House Canberra have in common?
Both groups of workers provide an essential public service.
Allwater workers prepare broken fresh water and sewage pipes and operate waste water plants. Contract cleaners at Parliament House ensure a clean and healthy environment for elected members of parliament and the thousands of people who visit the building.
Both groups are taking strike action to defend their living standards.
Allwater workers are taking action to prevent the partly French-owned Allwater from stripping away a week of annual leave, programmed days off and rostered days off in exchange for a measly 1.5% per year pay rise.
Contract cleaners at Parliament House are fighting to win a new Enterprise Agreement which maintains above award conditions won in the Clean Start Fair Deal For Cleaners campaign and for a modest wage increase.
Both the contract cleaners and water utility workers have something else in common. They are working for private-for-profit employers as a result of decisions by federal and state governments to privatize essential services in the 1990s.
The contractors in water utilities and cleaning industries win contracts from governments promising to provide the services at a cheaper cost than directly employed government workers.
Competition between contractors results in the successful tenderer winning contracts on unrealisitc prices so the ones who pay for this are the workers.
In the case of Allwater workers, the parent company Suez is on track to make 3 billion Euros in profit in 2017 worldwide. All of its profit comes from the exploitation of labor of water utilities workers across the world.
In the case of contract cleaners in Parliament, the contractor's profits come from increasing the workloads of cleaners and freezing their wages for the last three years.
What the bosses in both these contrasting situations did not bargain for is the spirited resistance of these workers.
According to the economic rationalist, neo-liberal script, privatization and contracting out was meant to nullify workers collective strength and break up the working class strength.
The script has gone off the rails in the case of Canberra cleaners and Allwater workers.
They are a shining example to other workers that no matter what industry you work in, daring to struggle and take collective action is possible and the only way to push back the attack on workers' living standards.
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