Kerry Smith, Sydney
Public sector unions have condemned the NSW Labor government's announcement on February 23 that it will seek to save $2.5 billion over four years by cutting 5000 jobs from the NSW public service.
In response to Premier Morris Iemma's announcement of the planned job cuts, to be achieved by "voluntary redundancies", the Public Service Association (PSA), one of the major unions representing NSW's 300,000 public sector workers, argued that it will reduce services to the public.
In a media release issued shortly after Iemma's press conference, PSA general secretary John Cahill said that the job cuts would:
- put further stress on workers' health, stress that a 'crack down' on access to workers' compensation rights will not paper over.
- cutting the 'unattached' workers' list will mean that departments undergoing restructures will lack adequate staff during the transition phase.
- cutting overtime will only ensure that the extra work, caused by the job cuts, will not get done.
"In short this, is a recipe for a significant downgrade in public services.
"While the PSA is always prepared to discuss efficiencies with the government, we cannot condone a slash and burn exercise which cuts services on the back of offensive stereotypes about the workers who dedicate themselves to the public service.
"The public sector has already been cut by one third in real terms since 1980, today's changes will only wind it back further. The public wants to see governments come up with plans to improve services, not cut them."
Cahill said the PSA would impose work bans on all jobs that are cut, meaning existing members would not carry out the work from their colleague whose job is eradicated. "We will be seeking a meeting with the premier to get a clear indication of the work he wants our members to stop doing", Cahill said.
Only two weeks earlier, Cahill had announced the results of an opinion poll conducted by Auspoll for the PSA over summer which found that the majority of NSW voters wanted to see more staff in key government departments such as public transport, police administration, child protection, rural services and care of the elderly and disabled.
Releasing the results of the poll on February 10, Cahill said: "Politicians have had a lot of fun over the years in making a scapegoats of public servants, but more and more the public seems to be making the connection between public sector jobs and the provision of public services.
"And when they look at the alternative — core services being carried out by the private sector — they see through the spin and recognise the only winners are big business.
"This shows that the public does respect and value the work that PSA members perform — and this is something that we will be stressing over the coming 12 months."
Commenting on the government's announcement, the NSW Council of Social Services (NCOSS) stated in a media release: "The principal focus of merging government departments should be to get better results for citizens, not simply to save money. To this end, NCOSS strongly urges the Iemma government, as we approach the 2007 NSW election, to adopt a set of bold economic, social and environmental targets for government to achieve and a transparent means of credibly measuring the results of government effort.
"The costs and benefits of further amalgamation of NSW government departments should be clearly demonstrated in relation to these targets before the next decisions are taken."
The NSW Teachers Federation condemned the planned jobb cuts and declared that Iemma's plan would not improve education, health and other services in NSW. "The people in these jobs provide much needed support in a range of areas", Teachers Federation president Maree O'Halloran stated in a media release.
"In 2003, the state government announced a funding cut amounting to 1000 jobs in the Department of Education and Training. The impact of the resulting job losses is still hurting public schools, TAFE colleges and students.
"Public sector jobs have been cut to pay for business tax cuts and other subsidies. They have not been cut to pay for the class size reduction program nor for quality teaching programs.
"The state government clearly announced these programs as fully funded in its state election policy."
She said that the Teachers Federation had proposed $1 billion in alternative expenditure cuts so as to increase funds to "frontline" services and programs in our public schools. These included eliminating the $600 million in subsidies given by the NSW government to private schools and reducing expenditure on the School Student Transport Scheme by $400 million. Currently $500 million is spent on this scheme, when only
$100 million is needed to transport students to their local public school.
From Green Left Weekly, March 1, 2006.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.