The Guardian 8 June, 2005

Broken Hill confronts "choice"

Broken Hill disability workers say that they will lose their houses and cars, and have to leave town if they are forced onto AWAs, the Howard government's non-union individual work contracts. "We just want to give our kids a safe environment and stability and many of us here are going to lose it", says local disability care worker Mary-Ellen Crimp. "Many of the staff here are young, with young families. We're all getting a lesson."

Proprietor Wayne Nicholas threatened 30 employees of Silver Lea Care and Respite with the sack before Christmas if they didn't sign AWAs that would have reduced conditions and removed penalty and weekend rates.

A Federal Court ruling ordered Nicholas to reinstate the workers and restore their earnings.

The service re-emerged as Summit, with the same workforce and Nicholas calling the shots, but without guaranteed hours that delivered income security.

The new arrangements cost Broken Hill workers around $200 a week.

"He's thumbed his nose at the Federal Court and walked away from agreements", said Simon Williams from the Australian Services Union.

But Crimp and her colleagues are standing firm against the use of AWAs and any attempt to undermine their conditions, concerned it will affect the standard of service they provide to the disabled and their families.

"A lot of our staff are really concerned", says Crimp. "It takes a certain kind of person to do this work. You can imagine how the clients' families were feeling."

The AWAs are offering different hourly rates of pay for people doing the same work with the same experience. Some of the rates vary by as much as three dollars an hour.

"We're worried about the conflict this would cause within staff. We fear it is going to set worker against worker", said Ms Crimp who was offered a deal that would have seen her give up overnight, weekend, on call and active nights rates, in exchange for a twenty-cent an hour pay rise.

"My husband and I would have had to leave town", she says. "A majority, many young families, would have lost homes and cars."

Employees are calling for the service to restore their conditions in line with the directions of the Federal Court.

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