The Guardian 2 March, 2005

From the horse's mouth

The family of a building industry boss has come face to face with the reality of John Howard's GEERS (General Employment Entitlements and Redundancy Scheme). "It doesn't work", former corporate services manager of the collapsed Walter Construction, Mike Walsh, said. "Nobody gets anything for 16 weeks and they still have to put food on the table and pay the mortgage. People are terrified until the first payments come through."

Walsh and 450 former white collar colleagues at Walter Construction are owed over $18 million dollars in entitlements.

The GEERS only pays award rates, offers no protection to subcontractors, doesn't cover super and caps redundancy at eight weeks.

The scheme also gives the government complete discretion on any payouts.

The majority of Walter's blue collar workforce will be paid tens of millions worth of entitlements in full and have new jobs after two weeks of pickets and negotiations.

Construction Division CFMEU members are protected from losing their long service, redundancy and superannuation as money is placed in industry trusts.

"White collar workers are envious of our blue collar colleagues after the way the CFMEU has looked after them", Walsh said.

Walsh was speaking at last week's Unions NSW meeting as delegates voted to back his non-union colleagues The CFMEU has managed to secure the entitlements of some white collar workers.

The union is sponsoring the Walter Staff Employees Group, composed of former Walter staff, and wants the scheme to guarantee 100 percent of worker entitlements.

A bus load of white collar workers will travel to Canberra on March 9 to deliver a petition with more than 5000 signatures calling for GEERS reform.

Next week a mobile billboard calling for the GEERS scheme to be beefed up will be launched at Kirribilli. The $20,000 cost of the billboard is being paid for with donations from blue collar and white collar workers.

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