Unions have refused to rule out more industrial action after a mass rally outside Sydney’s Parliament House protested against changes to the worker compensation scheme.
Organisers say almost 7000 workers ignored the rain on Wednesday to march on state parliament chanting “shame, Barry, shame”, and demanding the government drop plans to overhaul the scheme.
The government says Workcover needs to rein in a $4.1 billion deficit, which it claims could lead to a massive spike in compensation premiums.
A parliamentary committee report to be handed down on Wednesday is expected to recommend an overhaul of the scheme.
Unions fear the reforms will lead to injured workers having their benefits slashed, such as medical expenses and protections when travelling to and from work.
Paul McAleer, Sydney branch secretary of the Maritime Union Australia (MUA), said unions are prepared for a fight.
“All we’re trying to do here is to tell Barry O’Farrell that this is the start of a campaign to make sure his laws don’t significantly impact on workers, their families and the communities in which they live,” Mr McAleer said.
Earlier, Firefighters meeting at the Fire Brigade Employees Union (FBEU) in Sydney voted to strike if the government cut their workers’ compensation provisions and death and disability awards.
Nurses from Westmead, Nepean, St George, North Shore and Gosford hospitals also joined the protest on Macquarie Street.
Paul Collier, organiser of the Nurses Association, said the nurses’ presence was to send a message to the public because “they don’t really know what’s going on”.
“We’re here to try and tell them that what (the government) is doing is wrong,” he said.
Tom Rigby a crane operator, whose foot was crushed on the job, told crowds injured workers should not be punished further.
“This s*** that is going through at the moment, this is crap,” he told the crowd.
“The changes, should they be allowed to go through, all they will do is add further stress to families and individuals struggling to cope with day-to-day activities.
“We didn’t go to work to get injured; I went to work to come home to my family.”
NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell said the government had to take into account that the existing WorkCover scheme – and a $4.1 billion deficit – had to be reined in.
“What I’m saying to workers across the state is the best protection any government can provide them with is a sustainable scheme,” he told reporters in Sydney’s west earlier on Wednesday.
He also said unions had to accept that they were no longer running NSW.
However, their concerns would be heard and considered, he said.