Nurses and midwives say they should not be asked to do more for less

Bega nurses posing for a photo on international day for nurses, the same day the NSW government talked up its plan for a pay freeze.

The union representing nurses and midwives has rejected the New South Wales government’s effort to freeze their pay, saying it was abhorrent to ask frontline workers to do more for less.

New South Wales Nurses and Midwives Association general secretary Brett Holmes said on May 12 that it was no surprise that nurses and midwives are angry: the union had negotiated a modest 2.5% pay increase from July 1 but the government says it is considering freezing wages before the pay rise.

“Over 93% of our public sector members indicated their opposition to a wage freeze in a snap poll, while more than 4000 have emailed their local State MPs, urging them to reject it”, Holmes said.

“While risking their lives to protect our community during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s abhorrent to be asking frontline nurses to do more for less.”

NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said on May 12 that no decision had been made on public servants wages, but made it clear this is an option it is actively considering.

But not all NSW public servants are being subjected to a pay freeze. In May, it was revealed that seven senior public servants had their base salary lifted to more than half a million dollars. NSW police commissioner Mick Fuller was given an $87,000 a year pay rise in March, a sum that most workers do not earn over a whole year.

NSW midwife Trish Corcoran described the government’s proposal for a pay freeze as "outrageous". She told Green Left that COVID-19 frontline workers had “sacrificed their own health and wellbeing and that of their families to care for vulnerable and unwell people” and they “need to be supported not attacked”.

“For the past nine years, the NSW government has limited pay rises for nurses and midwives to 2.5% per annum. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, the cap on wage rises affected all public sector workers and suppressed wage growth.

“Right now, any freeze on wage rises already negotiated not only shows lack of appreciation to nurses and midwives, it won’t help the economic recovery,” Corcoran said.

 Holmes said: “We are all preparing for a second wave of COVID-19, yet the government is asking nurses and midwives to do more for less, putting the budget bottom line before people in need”. 

The NSW Teachers Federation has also called on the government not to freeze pay for public school teachers and principals who it said “have been turning themselves inside out throughout this crisis.

“The Premier is reminded that we have a legally binding agreement which we expect to be honoured”, the union said on May 12. “Should the government proceed with such a proposition, the NSWTF Executive will convene as a matter of urgency to determine a course of action in defence of our members’ rights.”

The NSW government is crying poor, having allocated $11 billion on stimulus spending. Premier Gladys Berejiklian said that the wage freeze would save $3 billion over four years. 

This is despite the NSW treasurer boasting last June that the state’s net debt was “the lowest of any state” and that the state’s financial position “remains strong”.

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