It was standing room only at Perth Town Hall on November 12 as members of the Public Sector Alliance met to launch the campaign against the state government’s wages cap, instituted in May 2017.
The Public Sector Alliance, formed this year, brings together a number of unions including the Community and Public Sector Union/Civil Service Association (CPSU/CSA), Rail Tram and Bus Union, the United Professional Firefighters Union, Health Services Union, United Workers Union, Australian Workers Union and State School Teachers Union.
In initiating the wages cap in 2017, Labor Premier Mark McGowan told public sector workers we had to share the load of repairing the damage to the state’s finances left behind by the Liberal National Government.
The government boasted a $5.6 billion surplus at the last state budget. Meanwhile, public sector workers wages have gone backwards. Over five years, workers have averaged a wage rise of 4.6% when inflation has been running at 7%. We have fallen behind other states’ wages and experience the country’s highest gender pay gap.
Unions WA Secretary Owen Whittle said the alliance of unions is campaigning for a two-year agreement of 4% or $2500 a year (whichever is greater) each year over two years and for a wages’ floor to replace the cap.
Heather Riseberry, a senior teacher working in the Goldfields, said that despite the state’s lucrative position, schools continue to be underfunded. “Our pay rise is below the rate of inflation and has led to WA public school teachers being the lowest paid teachers in Australia.”
Riseberry, an experienced teacher, compared her wage of $32.37 an hour with mining workers. “Our friend runs a business in the mining industry and he pays his employees $35 an hour. The only prerequisites they need is a driver’s license and police clearance. They don’t bring work home, have a degree, nor are they responsible for 24 other people. How is this valuing education and our future generation? Our students need good teachers and our teachers need good reasons to stay in the profession."
Julie-Marie, a full-time nurse and single mother to three children with disability, also spoke of the impact of the wages cap. “I work in a Tier 1 super-spreader environment. I was shocked when the government introduced the wage cap and even more shocked when they extended it. I was giving so much to serve and protect our community and realised I was being penalised; being told we weren’t worth being protected financially, weren’t worth supporting."
Julie-Marie spoke of the difficulty of supporting her family in the face of significant rises in living costs while her wage remained stagnant.
Whittle reported that the government had begun a wages policy “review” but that it does include union or and workers’ voices. It is not known whether it will seek a better wages framework or whether it is just buying time, he said.
A government response is expected in late December or early January. In the event it is not the response we are seeking, we need to be ready to fight.
[Janet Parker works in the public sector and is a member of the CPSU/CSA.]