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Issue #1916      May 25, 2020



There have been rumblings in New South Wales that a wage freeze for public sector workers, including nurses and teachers, is imminent in order to combat the economic burden imposed on the state by the cost of COVID-19 pandemic measures. Initially, NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said that front-line healthcare workers would be exempt from the wage freeze but has declined to repeat that assurance. Public servants were meant to receive a 2.5 per cent pay increase. Similarly, the NSW Teachers Federation had secured an agreement with the state government for a 2.28 per cent pay increase in January – that’s also threatened. To make this situation even more absurd, NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller received an $87,000 pay rise in March. Fuller offered not to accept the pay increase, however the state government went ahead with it anyway. Their justification? According to Berejiklian, Commissioner Fuller oversaw “the largest police force on the planet.” On the face of it, this claim looks ridiculous, and that’s because it is. According to Nine News, “the New York Police Department has more than double the number of sworn officers, and its Commissioner earns about $350,000. After the pay rise, Commissioner Fuller will earn just under $650,000.” Putting these numbers into a real example, a nurse earning an average salary of $75,136 would be staring at an annual loss of $2,000 with a wage freeze.

NSW is not the only state where essential service workers are facing the heat. The Andrews government is under pressure from the Commonwealth and business leaders to halt or defer pay increase negotiations. As a result, reactionaries are doing everything they can to pressure the government to postpone the pay increases. This includes Victorian Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien who, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, has complained about the “explosion” of new government agencies and public service executives. O’Brien told The Age that “senior people in government have got steady jobs, steady incomes and haven’t had their finances affected by this pandemic nearly as much as someone who owns a cafe in the high street, yet they are making decisions about lockdowns and restrictions.” This rhetoric is an attempt to shift the economic blame away from capitalism, from the bourgeoisie, and instead place it on state workers.

The Morrison government is also freezing wages at the federal level, where public servants will have wage increases deferred for a period of twelve months.

The reality is taking money out of the hands of workers does not help stimulate the economy.

“The last thing you want to be doing as a government, which can borrow cheaply during this kind of downturn, is the opposite of stimulus which is what cutting back on public sector wages would be doing,” Richard Holden, a professor of economics at University of NSW, told the Sydney Morning Herald. “I can see why showing some sense of share sacrifice [by the public sector foregoing wage increases] might be good politically but it doesn’t make a lot of sense economically.”

There is no economic logic behind freezing the wages of the working-class who in turn pump most of that money back into the economy. However, economic arguments aside, these actions by state and federal governments are morally reprehensible. The working-class is suffering exploitation as a result of the policies of the federal government. Not only do we subsidise the wealth of billionaires, but we are also risking our lives during a pandemic to produce commodities, all in the vain attempt to rescue capitalism from itself. Capitalism doesn’t need rescuing, workers do, and it is time to fight back against any form of wage freeze.

Next article – VALE JACK MUNDEY

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