Nurses prominent as campaign bites

The union movement’s campaign against the Howard government’s industrial relations agenda has started strongly.

Hundreds of thousands have rallied nationally to voice their opposition.

Over 100,000 people turned out in NSW on 1 July, the day the government took control of the Senate – where they can now push through laws without hindrance.

In Sydney, 20,000 people gathered at Town Hall to hear workers from different sectors in defence of workplace rights – including collective bargaining and hard-won award conditions.

Anne O’Connor, an RN from St George Hospital, starred with NSWNA President Coral Levett in a video presentation broadcast on Sky Channel across the state.

‘It was a privilege to be up there representing nurses,’ Anne said.

‘It was very exciting but also humbling to be involved in something so big. I’ve noticed a change since then as well.

This campaign has become much more of a people’s story. It has begun to sink in. People are beginning to understand what it is all about.’

Anne says the experience has made her optimistic about rolling back the changes.

‘We’re going to give it a good fight. That’s why we’re in a democracy. If we put enough pressure on we can turn it around.’ Coral Levett said she was delighted that nurses were given such prominence at the rally and in the video.

‘The face of that rally was different to what people are used to seeing at union rallies.

‘There were a lot of young people, a lot of women and a lot of occupations not normally at the forefront. It showed a real cross-section of working Australia.’

Coral is encouraged by the public’s response to the campaign.

‘It’s heartening to know people are listening and the government’s popularity is plummeting.’

Big turnouts were the order of the day in all parts of the country. Melbourne saw 120,000 march through the city centre. In Brisbane 20,000 people turned out, Perth had 15,000, Adelaide had 5,000, Hobart 3,000 and Darwin 2,000.

The week of action coordinated by the ACTU and local labour councils started with 3,000 mining and construction workers in the Pilbara in Western Australia striking against the new laws.

NSWNA Secretary Brett Holmes said the determination and strength of union members was impressive.

‘I’m particularly happy with the role of NSW nurses in this opening stage of the campaign to defend our rights at work.

‘I thought Anne and Coral did a terrific job in the video broadcast to NSW workers outlining how these changes would impact negatively on nurses.

‘And the participation of nurses in the rallies and Sky Channel broadcasts was something for us to be proud of as a union,’ he said.

‘We have to be conscious that this will be a long and tough battle. The newspaper and television polls show that the great majority of Australians are deeply unhappy with the government’s proposals.

‘But we should brace ourselves for an advertising onslaught by the government in favour of its changes,’ said Brett.

‘John Howard has consistently shown he is susceptible to public pressure. We need to maintain that pressure if we are to successfully defend our hard-won rights at work.’


  1. Download a leaflet for nurses about the campaign from the Your Rights At Work area of the NSWNA website ( and distribute it widely.
  2. Talk to your family, neighbours and workmates about the proposals and the impact on your community.
  3. Sign up with the Community Action Network ( and keep yourself informed about the campaign.
  4. Contact your MP and let them know your concerns.
  5. Write to the paper and ring radio talkback and speak out about your right to decent work and quality of life.

Family picnic 7 August
Unions NSW has organised another big event to keep up the momentum of the Your Rights At Work campaign.

The Last Weekend picnic will be held at Sydney Olympic Park on 7 August from 11 am to 2 pm. It’s a great opportunity to show John Howard that NSW families are standing together to defend our workplace rights.

Among the attractions will be the Hooley Dooleys, Tim Freedman, and Kid Confucius. There will be free kids rides, face painting and much more. For more information call 9264 1691.