After years of struggle, NSW public sector wages cap is removed

December 6, 2023
NSW teachers rallying for a pay rise in December 2021. Photo: Pip Hinman

“It’s official: after more than a decade the failed NSW public sector wages cap is gone,” Mark Morey, secretary of Unions NSW said on December 1.

The Industrial Relations Amendment Bill 2023 was passed on November 30, which removes the Coalition-imposed wages cap of 3% on public sector workers.

“Removing the cap means our essential public sector workers can now bargain and campaign for fair pay rises,” Morey said.

He said the Coalition government had ensured “essential services were driven into crisis” because “NSW could no longer attract and retain the essential workers needed”.

“We’ve all heard the stories of our nurses, teachers, firefighters, paramedics, child protection workers, cleaners and so many other workers, leaving their professions, or moving interstate, for better pay because they can’t make ends meet.”

He said the parliament only passed the law “because of your campaigning”.

Over several years, industrial campaigns, including strikes and mass rallies, have been waged by public sector workers, nurses, paramedics, teachers, firefighters and public transport staff.

However, a key issue remains: fair wages for public sector workers. The NSW Public Service Association (PSA) had earlier accepted a pay rise of 4%, which is still below the inflation rate of more than 5%.

PSA Secretary Stewart Little said in July that the pay rise followed years of campaigning and lobbying by the union and was the biggest since 2003-2004.

“When the NSW government made the pay offer, the PSA surveyed its members, with 80 per cent of respondents agreeing to accept the increase,” he told the July 21 Australian Financial Review.

“The increase comes after a 12-year cap of up to 2.5 per cent on wages implemented by the previous state government which was inclusive of any superannuation increases.”

Morey said the government’s new law will bring back the Industrial Relations Court and “fix” the broken industrial relations system.

It will also bring back a dedicated court for unions to pursue industrial disputes.

It will establish Workplace Health and Safety prosecutions, within the court, so that unions can prosecute employers who breach their work, health and safety responsibilities.

The NSW Greens have warned of the possible danger of a “de facto wage cap by stealth”, arising from the new Industrial Relations Commission’s terms of reference.

Greens industrial relations spokesperson Jenny Leong proposed an amendment to ensure the effect of any of the commission’s decisions on low-paid workers was considered alongside the effect on the government’s finances. Labor did not accept it.

“We are concerned that the proposed insertion of a provision requiring the industrial relations commission to consider the NSW government’s fiscal outlook and position when exercising their functions runs the risk of imposing a de facto wages cap by stealth,” Leong told the The Guardian on November 28.

Meanwhile, paramedics, nurses and teachers are still pushing for a fair pay rise.

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