NSW budget fails frontline workers

Mental health nurses on strike action in Newcastle on June 3. Photo: Niko Leka

The NSW government has dropped the controversial public sector wage cap in its budget. Unions NSW said this was “not a cause for celebration” but an admission of wrongdoing.

Public sector workers and Unions NSW have been campaigning for months against the unjust pay cut — particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said the government was reverting to its previous 2.5% public sector pay cap. Last year it was reduced to 1.5%, meaning that the NSW Industrial Relations Commission gave most public servants a pay rise of just 0.3% last October.

Unions NSW said the 2.5% annual pay cap is also insufficient, pointing out that even the Reserve Bank of Australia is recommending 3%. “Public sector workers deserve better, many of whom got us through this pandemic.”

The NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) described the budget as a “missed opportunity” because “it failed to address the urgent need for nurse-to-patient ratios in public hospitals”.

NSWNMA general secretary Brett Holmes said in on June 22 that the government needed “to address the widespread staffing issues raised by thousands of nurses and midwives across the state”.

Holmes said there was ample evidence that the public health system is in crisis. “The NSW government’s own hospital data shows the enormous strain health workers are grappling with. It is relentless. Relying on the goodwill of nurses and midwives to shoulder excessive workloads has carried the NSW government through a global pandemic.”

Nurses and midwives took action outside NSW Parliament on June 22 to demand mandated nurse-to-patient ratios. Nurses and midwives across the state have been organising actions to highlight the desperate need to raise staff levels.

The NSW Legislative Council passed a Greens’ initiated motion on June 23 mandating better nurse-to-patient ratios in public hospitals and for fair pay for nurses and midwives.

Paramedics are also fighting for fair pay, including taking industrial action. Paramedics in the Health Services Union (HSU) went on strike for 24 hours on June 22, responding only to life-threatening emergencies.

The HSU said that despite dealing with COVID-19, fires and floods, paramedics were only awarded a 0.3% wage rise last year. “This year’s 1.5% pay offer is less than inflation.”

HSU NSW Secretary Gerard Hayes slammed the government’s failure the support frontline workers. “Our paramedics are seeking a very basic pay rise that allows them to do their job with dignity and respect. This is modest, affordable and very well deserved.”