Public sector unions reject NSW gov’t pay rise offer

May 28, 2024
Nurse and midwife delegates vote on May 21 to campaign for a 15% pay rise. Photo: NSW Nurses and Midwives Association/Facebook

Public sector unions and Unions NSW have rejected NSW Labor’s pay offer, saying it will not help retain existing workers, or attract new ones which are desperately needed.

Labor announced its wages offer for 400,000 public sector workers on May 20: 9.5% over three years including a mandatory 1% increase in superannuation.

It also proposed a $1000 across-the-board wage top-up if inflation exceeds 4.5%. This is well below many state sector unions’ log of claims.

Unions NSW secretary Mark Morey said on May 20 the government’s inclusion of superannuation suggested that workers are being made to fund a mandatory work entitlement which employers should really be funding.

As workers are grappling with “the worst cost of living crisis in living memory”, the conditions to access the $1000 cost-of-living payment, based on the Sydney Consumer Price Index exceeding 4.5%, are designed to fail, he said.

“This amount should instead be rolled into the base pay of all public sector workers,” Morey said.

The wages offer only applies to workers whose enterprise agreements are up for renewal. They include nurses, allied health workers, firefighters, prison guards, community case workers and Service NSW employees.

As unions consult their members, it is worth noting that many are already pursuing higher pay rates.

The Fire Brigade Employees Union is seeking a 20% pay rise over three years.

NSW is suffering from worker shortages after the previous government’s 2.5% wage cap was lifted last year.

NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) assistant general secretary Michael Whaites said it is pursuing a 15% pay rise.

It is also seeking improved conditions, including a 30% penalty rate for night shifts; increasing sick leave to 20 days; 100% salary packaging; a wage rise for midwives working in midwifery group practice; better work-life balance with consecutive rostered days off and no changes to published rosters, unless consulted.

It is also wants funding for nurse-to-patient ratios in every ward and unit in every public hospital.

“We wait to see how much the government is really willing to bargain up,” Whaites said.

NSWNMA General Secretary Shaye Candish said a 15% pay increase is “justified and necessary”.

“A committee of our members combed through strong economic evidence from industrial relations and economic experts to reach a pay claim we believe is reasonable and achievable,” she said.

“The rate of pay for this female dominated workforce is failing to keep pace with male-dominated professions.

“If we’re serious about closing the gender pay gap, if we’re serious about providing women economic security, then raising the pay of nurses and midwives will go a long way in achieving those aims.”

The Activist Teachers Network NSW said Labor’s offer of 3.5% a year ”doesn’t match CPI let alone real inflation adjusted for mortgage and rent rises.

“A $1000 top-up is an insult. This offer won’t … retain public servants where they are needed.”

Another public sector worker said: “A 4% is a pay cut with the way groceries, bills and rent are going up. That’s an insulting offer and it should be a proper pay rise above inflation.”

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