Seven thousand public workers rallied outside the Western Australian Parliament House on August 17 to demand a 5% pay rise from the Labor government.
It the culmination of six weeks of industrial action by an alliance of some of WA’s largest unions — the Public Sector Alliance (PSA) — which formed last year in a bid to strengthen unions’ bargaining power against Mark McGowan’s wages policy.
The PSA includes unions covering workers across dozens of industries including health care, prisons, manufacturing and tourism.
The government initially offered a 2.5% wage rise a year, with the choice of a $1000 sign-on bonus or an extra 0.25% annually for two years.
The PSA has forced the government to raise the offer to a 3% annual rise for two years, and a $2500 one-off payment.
However, as the rally speakers noted, 7% inflation means that this is effectively a pay cut.
Unions WA secretary Owen Whittle was among those who condemned the government for refusing to give public sector workers a pay rise, saying workers deserve more.
“We can’t pay the bills with thanks or a pat on the back; we deserve a real pay rise,” Whittle said. “We are living in the wealthiest state in the country … we are seeing budget surplus after budget surplus … There is money for everything except for the workers who keep our state running and our community safe.”
Julie-Marie Hay, a nurse working at Royal Perth Hospital, described how the hospital system is barely staying afloat. “Currently, in the hospitals, we are struggling to survive just because we do not have staff.
“If they want to be able to keep us motivated so we have the resources to be there for you, then they need to respect us,” Hay said, adding a 5% rise does not cover the rising cost of living. “What we’re asking for with this is the bare bloody minimum.”
Industrial Relations minister Bill Johnston, who was invited to speak, said: “We are listening to you and your unions. We understand that our offer is not what you want but it’s what we believe we can afford.” He was booed by rally-goers who chanted for a 5% annual pay rise.