BREAKING NEWS STORY
Sydney May 18: Volunteers and paid staff plus the 100,000-member Australian Services Union have pledged to fight "tooth and nail" attempts to corporatize Australia's oldest and largest Catholic charity, the Society of St Vincent de Paul, and force its workers to sign Work Choices contracts.
At present the Society's workers, as employees of a charity, cannot be forced into the contracts. But management have decided corporation is the way to go.
In Sydney last night Sally McManus, NSW Branch secretary of the union said after a protest meeting by staff and volunteers that two SVDP employees, a man and a woman, had been sacked by the Society and two others questioned because they insisted on their right to engage in collective industrial negotiations.
The matter will come before the Industrial Relations Commission in Sydney on June 23.
"We are determined that these people are reinstated," said Ms McManus.
"They have been unfairly dismissed as part of the attempts to turn a charity into a corporation and drive people into Work Choices contracts," she said.
"They were sacked because they insisted on their right to act as a group in their dispute with management," she said.
"They demand the right to act collectively."
She said that Vinnies volunteers and workers worked closely with paid workers in places like the Matthew Talbot Hostel for Homeless Men, with refugees, general services, and with the poor and disabled.
Ms McManus said it was a scandal that an organization with such a wonderful history of charity would now seek to turn itself into a corporation to drive its workers into AWAs — Australian Workplace Agreements.
At a meeting of thirty staff and volunteers in Redfern last night it was resolved to resist the move to corporatization.
"They are resolved to fight this tooth and nail," said Ms McManus.
"Ninety-eight per cent of the Vinnies people are good people, devoted to the welfare of others," she said," but now there is a new breed of bad apples who want to change the Society and its traditions."
"The aim is to turn Vinnies into a private corporation."
The corporate culture would enable staff to be forced into Work Choices contracts.
Ms McManus said that Danny Klepak, operations manager in Sydney had made it clear to staff that the move to corporatization was real.
"Morale is very bad," she said.
"Many staff are fearful of the new proposals."
At the meeting staff who had worked for the Society for 10-15 years said they were terrified of speaking out against the moves by management.
"We dare not open our mouths, or we'll get the sack," said one.
The Society was established in Sydney's poverty-stricken The Rocks area in 1881 by Charles Gordon O'Neill, an Irish-Scot engineer from Glasgow, who became first president of the Society's Particular Council in 1884.
Money distributed to the poor came from the pockets of the also poor Sydney Catholic community.
Nowadays the Society's funds largely come from government.
The Federal Government has dropped the name 'WorkChoices' from its industrial relations telephone hotline. The hotline is now called the 'Workplace Infoline' and telephone operators have been told to change all references from "WorkChoices" to "workplace relations". Federal Minister for Workplace Relations Joe Hockey says the Government is not ashamed of the name WorkChoices but he says the Opposition's "scare campaign" has worked. "The unions and the Labor Party have put in a million-dollar scare campaign against WorkChoices," he said. "It has resonated because it's been the most sophisticated and political campaign in the history of this country."
Labor's industrial relations spokeswoman Julia Gillard has seized on the decision. "So ashamed is he of these laws that he has told the public service to no longer use the terminology," she said. But Mr Hockey says the terminology has been changed because the newly-introduced 'fairness test' is different to the existing WorkChoices laws. And he denied being ashamed of WorkChoices. "We're not ashamed of higher employment, we're not ashamed of higher wages, we're not ashamed of the lowest strike action since 1913," he said.
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©2007 Cliff Baxter. Permission granted for republication provided attribution given to original source.