The Guardian 11 May, 2005

Tide turns against Sydney Water

A slow drip of frustration over management tactics within Sydney Water bubbled into strike action last week when a worker with diabetes was stood down without pay. As word spread of the stand-down, which workers saw as part of a systematic program to force their colleagues out of the organisation, depot after depot walked off the job.

The worker in question had taken some leave on doctor's orders to get his blood/sugar levels back in balance. Upon getting the all clear from his doctor, he turned up at Sydney Water's Seven Hills depot, armed with return to work certificate.

However, management said he was too ill to work and stood him down.

Seven Hills workers withdrew their labour in support of their workmate on the Wednesday. By the evening of that same day, depots across Sydney had shut down in solidarity and 500 Sydney Water employees were on strike.

On Thursday, Sydney Water managers were under the blowtorch of media scrutiny as water mains started to overflow while repair crews staffed picket lines.

By mid-afternoon that day Sydney Water management had been hauled before the state Industrial Relations Commission (IRC), and orders were issued for the Seven Hills worker to be reinstated.

Australian Services Union State Secretary, Sally McManus, told the media, Sydney Water treats its workers the same way it treats the public as a bit of a nuisance.

"This is the organisation that has outsourced key services and now estimates water bills rather than actually reads meters", Ms McManus said.

"It is also an organisation that would stand down a sick worker, even though he produced a doctor's certificate saying he is fit to return to work."

The dispute came hot on the heels of IRC orders last week that saw management forced to respect rostering arrangements.

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