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Disability care workers fight for a fair deal

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Ned K.

The ABC TV News on Saturday 6 February provided better than usual coverage of an enterprise bargaining dispute between a major disability service provider in South Australia, Minda and its about 1,000 strong workforce. The TV News report showed hundreds of disability workers rallying outside Minda’s head campus at the southern Adelaide suburb of Brighton, displaying colourful placards and chanting for a fair go.

Several workers shook caution to the wind and aired their issues to the large ABC News audience. The interviewed workers said that they were taking action because Minda was trying to cut their real wages and reduce working conditions, including a reduction in shift penalties. For all this Minda also initially demanded a three year wage freeze. Due to more and more Minda workers speaking up and becoming active union members, Minda revised its pay offer to a measly 2% per year.

The news coverage showed Minda workers carrying their union United Voice placards through suburban streets to alert the community to what was going on.  Minda’s attempt to impose a three year wage freeze and cuts to shift rates corresponds to implementation of the National Disabilities Insurance Scheme. Minda, a large provider of disability services spun the employer line that they needed to remain “competitive” in the “new environment” of client directed care. However this argument did not wash with the workers who over the last three years have seen Minda build and sell off expensive multi storey retirement living apartments on Minda land at beachside suburb Brighton. The amounts of money Minda are making out of this land sell off and sale of apartments is not disclosed, but workers know that this property venture by Minda is not being done for the love of it, but for profit.

Workers at  the rally were determined and their strong voice resulted in a rare occurrence – Minda CEO agreeing to be interviewed on TV News to give the TV audience ‘a balanced view’ of the dispute. The CEO though was unconvincing on air compared with the interviewed workers who spoke with a background of raucous support from their co-workers!

For the last 30 years the plan of big business led by foreign owned corporations has been to diminish the power of workers in Australia by restructuring the whole economy in their own interests. This has included plant closures, moving businesses overseas, reducing workforces and privatisations, backed by a co-operative string of federal governments. As Ged Kearney pointed out following a meeting of union secretaries and others in Melbourne in the first week of February this year, the big business offensive has had some impact. However there are ample examples of determined workers' struggles in industries previously in slumber, so to speak. Minda workers' struggle and collective action is an example of workers getting organized in defiance of big business’s dreams of smashing workers’ collective power completely.

Workers in any industry can organize collectively and contribute to the overall rebuilding of the workers’ movement in Australia, provided union leaders engage with workers and give them the space to organize and project a vision of hope and optimism.

In Minda workers’ case, that “recipe” is being put in place and workers are growing in confidence as to what their collective efforts can achieve.


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