1 December 2022

'Working poor': ACT Government employees rally for a 'living wage'

| Lottie Twyford
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A large crowd of General Service Officers and construction workers rallied outside the ACT Legislative Assembly today. Photo: Lottie Twyford.

Some of the workers who kept Canberra “open and safe” during the pandemic have been left to sleep in cars and use showers and bathrooms at their workplaces, a rally outside the ACT Legislative Assembly heard today.

The rally urged the ACT Government to offer workers who kept the city’s roads clean and parks maintained during lockdowns a “living wage” and give them some dignity.

ACT Government General Service Officers (GSOs), Building Service Officers (BSOs) and Cleaning Service Officers (CSOs) rallied outside the ACT Legislative Assembly today, 1 December, calling for a pay rise and a reclassification of their pay grades to meet the rising cost of living in the Territory.

If they don’t receive what they want, the government has been warned to expect more industrial action in the new year.

Today’s large crowd consisted of ACT Government General Service Officers (GSOs), and construction workers who’d come to show support.

All of them had walked off the job for three hours. They warn three days of no work would wreak havoc across the city.

GSOs include professions such as cleaners, gardeners, city maintenance workers and construction workers. Some are on salaries of just above $50,000.

Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) ACT branch secretary Zach Smith addressed the crowd and the Labor and Greens MLAs who had turned out to watch.

He said the government could not call itself progressive while the workers who kept Canberra “open and safe” during the pandemic were left to sleep in their cars and use showers and bathrooms at their workplaces.

“It doesn’t matter how many press releases you put out, how many hand-wringing exercises and how much backslapping you do,” Mr Smith said.

“You cannot say we are an inclusive society if full-time workers are struggling to put food on the table and a roof over their heads.

“It is a moral failure of this government … now is the time to act.”

Zach Smith

CFMEU ACT branch secretary Zach Smith said the union would be rejecting the government’s latest pay offer as it did not address its structural concerns. Photo: Lottie Twyford.

During the pandemic, Mr Smith said he’d received a flood of phone calls from senior ACT Government managers who wanted their workforces back out cleaning roads, pruning trees, and carrying out city maintenance.

“The lockdown wasn’t even a week old and they were forcing GSOs out by the hundreds. That’s because the work [they] do is invaluable,” he said.

Independent Federal MP Bob Katter also addressed the rally, saying it was more important for him to be there than in Federal Parliament.

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Mr Smith called on the government to provide workers with some dignity.

The CMFEU and the United Workers’ Union want a restructure of classifications so the lowest paid GSO workers receive at least $61,000.

That was not part of the ACT Government’s latest offer, although it did offer a pay rise.

Mr Smith said while it went some way to addressing wage growth for the lowest paid workers, it still was not what the union was campaigning for and would be rejected.

“Even if you’ve got an eight per cent pay rise on $50,000, that doesn’t make a difference between paying your rent or not or putting food on your table,” he said.

“The whole structure needs to be reclassified. We have people on $60,000 and $70,000 who are supervising others in the field and who have trade certificates.

“They are grossly underpaid compared to the private sector and compared to the cost-of-living.”

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Union delegates met with the ACT Government this afternoon to discuss the way forward.

But Mr Smith has warned this issue must not drag on. Every month it was left unresolved was another month of impoverished conditions for workers, he said.

The CFMEU unanimously moved to endorse further industrial action at today’s rally.

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The Chairman2:34 pm 02 Dec 22

Current Government is out of touch with reality. Selling land and raising Rates for a Tram System with limited use while Healthcare, Education and Cost of Living are impacted.

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