Devil in the detail for NSW public servants

Issue 

Trade-offs agreed to by the NSW Public Service Association (PSA) are now coming to light, weeks after the union signed off on a 12% pay rise — 4% a year for three years — on September 17.

By signing the "Memorandum of Understanding" (MOU) on October 2 the PSA has agreed to deliver "savings" of 1.5% per annum over the life of the agreement. The MOU states that these "savings" will be funded from "changes of conditions and agency improvements", which is consistent with the NSW Labor government's demand that the public sector pay for any increase over 2.5% with "productivity measures".

A number of long-held conditions are now on the line to fund these 1.5% in "savings".

Sick leave will be harder to claim, with a greater requirement to provide medical certificates (in many parts of the state it is very difficult, and expensive, to see a doctor). Backdated medical certificates will only be accepted at the "discretion" of the boss, while other, unspecified, "forms of evidence" may be required to prove illness.

Flexitime arrangements will become less flexible, and family and community leave can now only be claimed in an emergency.

Another major concession is the acceptance of "retrenchment" (compulsory redundancy and the process that precedes it), which in some circumstances may result in a smaller redundancy payment.

Each NSW agency or department may be pressured to pursue "agency efficiency initiatives" if the sector-wide initiatives don't yield the required savings. If such savings are not clearly identified and tallied, and the information provided to the union, then workers may be giving up more than 1.5%.

More cuts are likely to be delivered in the NSW government's November 11 mini-budget.

PSA delegate Steve O'Brien told Green Left Weekly that the pay deal has gone ahead without a vote by members."The 12% increase over three years is welcome but it is far short of the original claim of 6.5% a year. While we got a letter in the mail from John Cahill, PSA general secretary, talking up the 12%, there was no real explanation of the 'savings' required under the MOU. The devil is in the detail with this agreement", O'Brien said.

"According to the PSA, inflation is running at 4.5%. In addition, significant productivity gains justify a more reasonable pay increase. As the PSA has pointed out, any unfunded pay rise based on givebacks may well result in the 'erosion and loss of vital services' provided by public servants."