Disability workers protest in Bendigo

BENDIGO’S disability workers are fighting for better pay and conditions.

About 40 people braved yesterday’s rain to protest outside MP Damian Drum’s Barnard Street office during a two-hour stop-work action.

Campaigners dressed in Health and Community Services Union T-shirts waved flags and held signs with the message “Decreased conditions equals reduced care”.

Loddon Mallee HCSU organiser Ginny Adams said many disability workers stood to lose thousands of dollars a year due to proposed cuts to qualifications allowances and pay increments.

“We’re in the middle of our EBA campaign,” she said.

“The government has put a raft of conditions, hard-fought conditions, back on the table to be removed.

“These conditions include various shift penalties – afternoon shift specifically – commuted allowance, and parental leave rights for casual staff.

“This is an industry that runs on about 25 per cent casual staff. 

“Because of the hours they work it’s obviously a draw for people with young people at home, but because of maternity leave those people may start to leave.”

Ms Adams said disability workers would ramp up their fight next week when they meet in Melbourne on Friday for a statewide rally.

“These people are dealing with everything from the obvious disability, but there’s also a lot of clients who have dual disabilities,” she said.

“They have mental health problems, behavioural problems, and a lot of clients are ageing so there are a lot of ageing issues as well.

“So without being able to retain a trained workforce you’re really putting those clients at risk.”

Disability workers support people in a range of community settings, and many support people with profound disabilities living in residential units.

There are 356 Department of Human Services disability employees across the local Loddon Mallee region – 42 casual, 176 part-time and 138 full-time.

Disability support workers employed by the DHS have been bargaining for more than five months. 

Last week the state government failed to convince Fair Work Australia to intervene and suspend public sector disability support workers taking protected industrial action.

MP Damian Drum is in parliament this week but said he would be happy to meet representatives from Bendigo’s disability workforce.

“People would know that I’ve always tried to help people with disabilities as much as possible,” he said.

“I’m an advocate for this group, far louder than most.”

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