The New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) ruled on October 1 that the wages of more than 400,000 public sector workers will “rise” by just 0.3% over the next 12 months — that’s 60 cents a day for the average worker.
As the IRC noted at the time the rise may be perceived “as notional at best”. A 0.3% pay rise is effectively a wage freeze, and follows nine consecutive years of annual 2.5% pay rises for public servants.
The IRC made the ruling after hearing evidence that public sector workers would suffer a reduction of 0.3% in real wages due to inflation. This includes workers who saved NSW from Black Summer and who have been working on the frontlines of the pandemic for months.
Unions NSW secretary Mark Morey said the decision was a “kick in the guts for every public sector worker that got us through the bushfires and COVID-19”. He also said unions would consider taking legal or industrial action.
“They’ve [the Gladys Berejiklian government] said they’re scrapping the wages policy unless it benefits them so we’re going to have to re-adjust our approach to our industrial relations in this state. It can’t be business as usual; it’s a new environment; they’ve shifted the goalposts, and we’re going to have to change the strategies we use. People may start enforcing their award conditions.”
Unions NSW said public sector unions are now consulting their memberships to work out their next steps.
NSW Public Service Association general secretary Stewart Little said the outcome affects workers who have stopped the pandemic from overwhelming hospitals, schools, prisons and the community. “We see this decision as absolutely diabolical,” he said.
NSW Teachers Federation president Angelo Gavrielatos described the ruling as “nothing short of an insult”.
NSW Nurses and Midwives' Association general secretary Brett Holmes said that the ruling was “disgraceful” for his members who have been putting their lives and their families at risk by simply going to work during the pandemic.
Nurses and midwives have endured “one of the toughest years of their nursing and midwifery careers” Holmes said, adding that this is evidence that the state government “does not value” their work. He described the government’s argument that “public sector wages must be sacrificed to pay for construction works” as out of touch. “They should be spending on public health, not taking it away at a time like this,” Holmes said.
Meanwhile, state governments in Victoria, Queensland and South Australia have committed to pay rises for nurses and midwives. The NSWNMA is continuing to campaign for better wages and conditions.