Firies strike over compo cuts

Jessica Grewal

THE sound of wailing sirens outside NSW Parliament House drowned out the sound of feuding MPs on Thursday afternoon as the fire-fighters union protest reached its peak in the middle of question time.

In an historic move, every firefighter in Sydney walked off the job and drove their trucks down Macquarie St in protest at the O'Farrell government's planned workers' compensation cuts.

Under the new WorkCover changes, compensation payments will be reduced after 13 weeks rather than 26 weeks.

Police have been quarantined but other emergency service workers including firefighters and paramedics have not been offered the same protection.

On Thursday, nurses, teachers and bus-drivers also turned out to the protest but it was the steady stream of fire trucks blocking the heart of the CBD which attracted the most attention.

Union Services Union President Graeme Kelly described the action as "gutsy" and a "historic moment for NSW".

In the lead-up to the march, Opposition Leader John Robertson and former NSW premiers Kristina Keneally and Nathan Rees mingled with protestors.

Mr Robertson said Mr O'Farrell should apologise to the workers.

The firefighter's decision to strike from 10am-6pm caused turmoil in the emergency services network.

While Police Minister Mike Gallacher said "ever possible action" had been taken to avoid disruptions, volunteers were tested when a house fire broke out less than an hour after the strike was announced.

One of the firefighter crews en-route to the protest decided to divert and attend the blaze until a Sydney Airport back-up team arrived.

When asked to respond to the protest during question time Mr O'Farrell would only say he was "delighted" the firefighters who had helped with the house fire had responded rather than going directly to Macquarie St.

The Workers Reform Bill was passed in the Lower House earlier this week and was expected to pass through the Upper House late Thursday night.

Topics:  firefighters strike

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