A real dampener … NSW firefighters hose the roof of Parliament House in protest of the proposed workers compensation laws. Photo: Simon Alenka
Fire brigade officers attended a house fire in Sydney yesterday on their way to a strike outside Parliament House in protest against the government’s controversial changes to the workers compensation scheme.
Fire trucks blockaded Macquarie Street in the city and turned their hoses on Parliament House before drowning it out with the sound of their blaring sirens.
The government’s controversial workers compensation laws passed the upper house last night with the support of Christian Democrats MP, Fred Nile. The changes were supported by government and crossbench MPs, 19 votes to 16 shortly after 2am today.Advertisement: Story continues below http://ad-apac.doubleclick.net/adi/onl.smh.news/national/nsw;cat=national;cat1=nsw;ctype=article;pos=3;sz=300×250;tile=3;ord=8.5835399E7?
A government spokesman said it did not support multiple amendments put forward by the opposition and the Greens.
However, it would support those put by Mr Nile including one to reinstate the coverage of journey claims, abolished in the new bill.
The amendment says journey claims will be covered “if there is a real and substantial connection between the employment and the accident or incident out of which the personal injury arose”.
Greens MP David Shoebridge said Mr Nile had been “sold an utter pup by the government” because the amendment failed to provide any additional protection for workers injured in journeys to or from work.
“This rules out 99 per cent of journey claims and gives workers no protection at all,” he said.
“Fred Nile has either been sold a lemon by the government or has deliberately misled the public.”
A house at Campbell Street, Ramsgate, caught fire about 1pm when two fire crews from Hurstville and Kogarah were on their way into the city to protest.
A Fire and Rescue NSW spokeswoman said the crews attended within 13 minutes of the call to put out the fire.
They were later replaced by the Aviation Rescue and Firefighting Service before joining their colleagues from Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong who left stations unmanned from 1pm to 6pm.
Premier Barry O’Farrell applauded the crew for responding to the Ramsgate fire but was angry about the strike and the fire brigade officers’ failure to provide skeleton staff to protect public safety during the strike.
“That is one of the most irresponsible actions I’ve ever heard of from a public sector union in the history of this state,” he told Parliament.
It is the first time firefighters have staged a major strike in NSW since 1956.
FBEU state secretary Jim Casey said the strike action “was about gaining an exemption for fire officers in order to be consistent with exemptions for police and rural fire service volunteers”.
“It appears that has not occurred but we view this as a marathon not a sprint and firefighters will continue to take whatever action we think is necessary to defend ourselves and our industry,” she said.