The Guardian • Issue #2010

Public sector workers walk off on Perrottet “proposal”

Report from a CPA member on strike

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2010

Tens of thousands of public servants walked off the job in a strike defying the Premier’s inaction, posturing, and insulting behaviour.

The Public Service Association (PSA) wrote to Premier Dominic Perrottet four times about a wage rise and to abolish the wage cap. Instead of coming to the table, Perrottet held a media conference where he proclaimed a three per cent “wage rise.”

As a member of the PSA writing this, it was heartening to see so many colleagues taking to the streets and pushing back at this platitude.

To echo what our union officials have already said, finding out about a “proposal” through the media is insulting and disrespectful. Especially to frontline workers who have kept New South Wales functioning since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“Perrottet has made a big deal of his offer to lift the decade-old wage cap from 2.5 to 3.0 per cent. But with inflation running at 5.1 per cent, workers need at least 5.2 per cent to go forward,” wrote PSA President, Nicole Jess in an op-ed for the Sydney Morning Herald.

“The current three per cent offer will mean the average worker will have to spend less on their groceries this year, compared to last year. Forcing 430,000 public sector employees to cop a pay cut right now is not just unethical, but economically foolish.

“Scrapping the wages cap and giving our public sector employees a decent pay rise would send a powerful signal to private sector employers: start shifting money from the profit column or prepare to start losing employees.”

The PSA, like other unions, is using the momentum gained from anger and frustrations following the pandemic. We saw nurses and midwives come out in force for their strike actions in previous months. Transport workers similarly walked off at the end of last year. It was invigorating to see public sector workers now have their moment to show those at the top what union power and collective strength means.

This includes the strength of regional and rural members engaging with the PSA’s wage rise campaign. As Nicole Jess has said, frontline workers, including those in regional and rural areas and job sites should not be forgotten.

Other minority workers and those who are marginalised must also be recognised, such as the First Nations Peoples who served on the frontline. This included continuing to see children as child protection case workers in person amid the pandemic.

For many, this was either the first time they had walked off work in years or their first time striking full stop.

“The PSA does not take the decision to go on strike lightly,” the union communicated to its members.

“We know many members are reluctant to take a day from their vital roles protecting and serving the people of NSW.

“However, the state government’s refusal to commit to giving our members a sufficient wage rise to keep ahead of inflation leaves us with no choice. This refusal comes after the NSW Public Sector spent the past two-and-a-half years guiding the state through pandemic, bushfires and floods.”

It’s hoped that the message rings loud and clear in Dominic Perrottet’s ears: he needs to get with the program and make a solid irrevocable offer to public sector workers. One that will help us stay on top of the rapidly increasing cost of living.

In his address to the media, Perrottet also offered a $3000 bonus payment to health workers. A gesture aimed at one group of frontline workers, but as it was pointed out in speeches at our rally, where are the bonuses for everyone else who worked through the pandemic?

“Today we’re announcing the biggest boost in our health workforce in the state’s history and the largest in the country,” Perrottet said in his media conference.

“It’s been a difficult two years across our state but our workers have been at the frontline. […] We really appreciate what you have done for all of us.”

Perrottet’s focus on health neglected many of the contingents attending the PSA’s day of action. It also still doesn’t take a pay rise above inflation or give enough to keep up with the cost of living.

“[It’s] disappointing to see the government have not looked after their employees, our members,” wrote PSA General Secretary on Facebook.

“Our School Learning Support Officers (SLSO’s) are on $56,000 a year. There is no overtime, this is it for them and you know what, there is a health component to their jobs. But they are not included in the ‘appreciation payment’ $3,000. Our members in schools work hard and can’t afford the rise of cost of living.

“All frontline workers have been disadvantaged today. […] This also means that the communities they live in have been disadvantaged.”

As a member of the Communist Party of Australia working in the NSW Public Service and a member of the PSA I’m proud to have stood up to the government and be a small part in our battle to win what we have earned.

However, I believe that we’ll need to struggle further if we’re to win. I know that this action has inspired other workers to fight back. It’s important that we continue to build the campaign. We need to keep organising our coworkers and make sure that the next strike is even bigger so that the government can no longer ignore us.

Until the NSW Premier’s Office comes back with a comprehensive and legally binding offer that looks after all of us, from education to those in service centres and beyond, there is no offer expressing true appreciation for the workers who have kept the state together. We make the Premier and all his ministers look good. It’s time that they return the favour, stop this insulting behaviour, and pay us what we’re worth.

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