NSW health workers, teachers push Labor to cancel pay cap

May 21, 2023
Health workers meet on May 16. Photo: Health Services Union NSW/Facebook

The New South Wales Health Services Union (HSU) has stepped up its industrial campaign, demanding the new Labor government grant pay rises to its paramedics and other ancillary hospital staff.

In the first round of action on May 17, paramedics and patient transfer officers imposed a 24-hour ban on transporting patients discharged from hospitals.

The HSU wants the 3% public sector wage cap lifted, followed by a 6.5% wage rise before the union agreement expires on July 1.

The HSU is one of a number of unions, including nurses, teachers and other public sector workers, which took industrial action last year to challenge the former Coalition government’s wages freeze.

HSU secretary Gerard Hayes said there would be more industrial action unless the cap was lifted.

“We will be holding industrial stoppages right around the state with every hospital ... industrial action will continue and it will not stop,” he said on May 18.

Hayes said Premier Chris Minns needed to reform all health services awards so they were fit for purpose.

“If [removing the cap] was a passing thing they said in opposition that they might look at, sure, but this was the major position held in the election and everyone sat back and waited,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald on April 28.

Paramedics in NSW are the highest injured and lowest paid, Hayes said, adding that a growing number are considering moving interstate because of cost-of-living pressures.

“Paramedics can go to Queensland tomorrow, and I guarantee they will, after the NSW government spent $100,000 training them,” he said on May 18. Melbourne paramedics earn about 30% more than those in NSW.

In opposition, Labor promised to abolish the public sector wage cap and deliver higher pay for frontline workers. Seventy industrial agreements, covering 200,000 public sector workers, will expire on July 1.

Hayes said Labor could have removed the wages cap the day after the election. “It chose not to. And every day since we have wondered when we will see action.”

He told the Sydney Morning Herald it was “concerning and confusing” that unions still did not know what Labor was planning to do about the public sector wages cap. He said the HSU had offered to participate in wide-ranging reforms to make hospitals run better and more efficiently.

“Why people are dragging their feet is beyond me. I’ve raised all this with [health minister] Ryan Park and you know it’s all well-intentioned and so forth, but I’m not interested in talking any more, I’m interested in outcomes,” Hayes said.

The NSW Teachers Federation (NSWTF) is also pushing for wage rises. NSWTF president Angelo Gavrielatos said “unsustainable workloads and uncompetitive salaries” were key reasons for there being “2172 permanent teaching positions... vacant in NSW public schools”.

“We face a classroom crisis in NSW,”  Gavrielatos said. “Thousands of teaching positions are vacant, the number of teachers resigning has doubled in two years and the number of people studying to become a teacher has dropped by 30 per cent. Teacher shortages mean kids miss out and teachers burn out.”

He said teacher shortages would not be fixed without fixing the wages and workload problem.

Minns said the new government plans to overhaul the industrial system, which involves repealing and changing laws. But unions say the pay cap can be cancelled by ministerial regulation, which must happen immediately.

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