Workers have held a rally outside NSW parliament to protest the government’s “reckless” decision to cap pay rises for nurses, paramedics, firefighters and other public sector workers.
The Berejiklian government’s decision to cap annual wage increases for those workers at 1.5 per cent was slammed as a “slap in the face” to workers by Unions NSW.
“They said if we cut your wages we’ll keep your jobs – well, they’ve cut your wages and said nothing about the jobs. It’s a disgrace,” Unions NSW secretary Mark Morey told a crowd of about an estimated 250 union members and supporters, who responded with shouts of “Shame!”
The rally drew delegations from the Nurses and Midwives Association, Teachers Federation, Public Service Association, Fire Brigade Employees Union and several other public sector unions.
Several speakers said the pay rise cap, expected to be a factor in Tuesday’s NSW budget, made them feel like the government lacked respect for the workers who had been crucial to the state’s recovery from bushfires and the coronavirus pandemic.
“Show them some dignity, show them some respect”, said Australian Workers Union assistant secretary Paul Noack, whose union represents national parks and forestry firefighters.
“These firefighters faced the worst firefighting season in the time we can remember. And they get the worst pay increase they can ever remember.”
The move to cap annual wage increases at 1.5 per cent – significantly less than the annual 2.5 per cent rise the sector is used to – came after a controversial proposal for a 12-month wage freeze earlier in the year.
That plan was struck down in the upper house, although a tribunal eventually ruled in the government’s favour, capping public servants’ wage increases at just 0.3 per cent for the year.
“Premier Berejklian’s decision to cut wages is a slap in the face for public sector workers after the most challenging year of their lives. But this is also a reckless economic decision which will impact negatively on us all,” Mr Morey said.
“Nurses, paramedics, cleaners, teachers, police and contact tracers are containing COVID-19 and keeping the state on track. Gladys Berejiklian should be making a clear statement about how her government intends to maintain jobs and create new ones in NSW.”
Firefighter Ben Gaudin told the crowd that tighter wallets for his colleagues would mean less money spent at local businesses in the communities where they lived and worked.
“This government has not invested in us or our service. Many of our stations are a wreck. Many of our trucks are old. We need more fire stations, with more firefighters right across the state. Yet they have failed to invest in us for almost a decade,” Mr Gaudin said.
NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet has defended the move as a way to keep people working and strike a fair balance when it comes to wages in the state.
“We think it’s very reasonable. Obviously, we want to make sure we have a balanced wages policy in our state. We’re going through a pandemic, we have an unemployment rate, currently, at 7.2 per cent. And we want to keep as many people in work (as possible) in this current time,” Mr Perrottet said when the 1.5 per cent cap was first revealed.