A day of IR protest ? if the boss lets you
By EMMA CORNFORD and ADRIAN MILLER
ALMOST 600 people from the Clarence Valley yesterday took part in what was billed as the biggest stop work meeting in Australia's history.
The South Grafton Ex-Servicemen's Club and Clarence Hotel in Maclean were the two venues in the Valley, where workers gathered from 9 until 10am to show their support for the national day of community protest.
Estimated crowd numbers were 400 in South Grafton and 180 in Maclean.
Teachers, Clarence Valley Council, Boral, RTA and Country Energy employees were all represented at the meetings, but in Grafton some workers said people from their place of work didn't turn up because of restrictions placed on leave.
One timber worker, who did not want to be named, said workers at his mill had been told not to attend the meeting because of the pressure it would place on production lines.
But in Maclean, workers who spoke to The Daily Examiner claimed they had no problems taking the time off work and didn't fear recriminations from bosses.
United Services Union acting organiser Craig Chandler said the attendance at Maclean showed regional communities were just as worried as city workers.
"It's good to see the campaign won't stop if the law gets in and I hope the Senate takes into account attendances in the cities as well as regional centres," Mr Chandler said.
He also said talk of employees being sanctioned by bosses for attending the meeting were exaggerated and didn't believe people had stayed away for fear of reprisal.
"What that did was make employees decide to take the whole day off where before they were only going to have three or four hours off," he said.
Yesterday's protest had a different flavour to the previous industrial relations meeting, where unions were accused by some of 'scaremongering'.
The television hook-up to Melbourne was hosted by comedian Tim Ferguson and included speeches by union heavyweights as well as other comedians and entertainers.
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"We need to send a message to the Government, who seem to think the only difference between slaves and workers is the spelling," Mr Ferguson said.
ACTU president Sharron Burrow said would be remembered as 'the start of something big'.
"We must not be the first generation to leave fewer rights at work than we inherited ? and we won't be," she said.
Religious leaders, including former Anglican Bishop of Grafton Phillip Huggins, also weighed into the debate.
"It is a disturbing and unwise decision," he said.
At the completion of the live hook-up, ASU workplace delegate Angela Rock spoke in Maclean, urging attendees to spread information to co-workers and others.
"United we bargain, divided we beg," was her message, and she implored people to fight the changes to protect the rights of further gen- erations of workers.