- by Richard Titelius
- The Guardian
- Issue #1990
Earlier this year, six unions – the Community and Public Sector Union/Civil Service Association (CPSU/CSA), State School Teachers Union of Western Australia (SSTUWA), United Workers Union (UWU), Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU), and Health Services Union (HSU) – allied to form the Public Sector Alliance (PSA). The aim of the PSA is the pursuit of wage justice for their members. After several years of wage caps of $1000 a year by then-premier Colin Barnett to fix a fiscal black hole of their making, Premier Mark McGowan has continued the wage restraint for the same reason.
PSA’s first action was to lobby the McGowan government before the delivery of the State Budget to have the State Public Sector Wages Policy taken off the table. The PSA was able to achieve this with additional lobbying from Unions WA.
As a result, the McGowan government needed to formulate a new public sector wages policy and called for submissions from all relevant parties, including the public sector unions and Unions WA. As part of its submission, Unions WA called for a new wages policy which would “guarantee for public sector workers […] a wage increase of at least four per cent that will compensate for the wage restraint […].”
As the government prepares to deliver this policy by December 2021/January 2022, the PSA called for a public meeting of the delegates and members of their affiliates to put the case publicly and personally to the decision-makers of the McGowan government that public sector workers need a pay rise. Specifically, a wage increase that not only keeps up with the current increases in the cost of living but makes up a little for what has been lost through cumulative restraints over the last three agreements.
The first speaker was Unions WA Secretary Owen Whittle. Whittle said, “We rely on government services to make our society what it is, and these workers now need a decent pay rise.” Whittle added, “The wages policy of this government has been a failure only delivering 4.6 per cent over three agreements while the Minimum Wage increased by 11.2 per cent within a similar time frame.” The government now had a $5.6 billion surplus, and the government should not use wage restraint as the first lever it pulls to manage the state budget.
The next speaker was Australian Council of Trade Unions Secretary Sally McManus, who addressed the 300 unionists in the Perth Town Hall via a pre-recorded video message of solidarity from Melbourne. McManus said that Australia is coming out of the pandemic, and industries are experiencing labour shortages. Instead of hiring Australian workers at award wages, businesses have been calling for cheap overseas labour. Many people in the community suffer, said McManus, because there are not enough resources in the community. It is the adequately paid wages of workers in the community, especially the public sector, that support the community and the private sector. McManus added, “Usually it is the public sector which leads with pay rises and then the private sector pays more.” However, state governments across the country have been capping wage rises and not engaging in proper bargaining processes.
SSTUWA delegate Helen from Kalgoorlie was the next speaker, saying that the pay rises which she had been getting were below the rate of inflation and are now one of the lowest in the country.
Julie Maree, an enrolled nurse and member of UWU, said she had a young family and wanted to be able to earn enough to be able to give her children the love and care they deserve.
CPSU/CSA State Secretary Rikki Hendon concluded, “All across the public sector, workers are feeling the strain of the rising cost of living.” Hendon added, “Us coming together is a game-changer as uniting separately has the potential to divide us”. However, Hendon warned union delegates and members that we will need to be ready to take action in 2022 to hold their ground. It is important we bring our members with us and also to bring other workers on board with the union movement.
State public sector workers need a pay rise, one that matches the cost of living. It’s about the value the government should place on public sector workers – the ones who helped keep the wheels of the state moving during the COVID-19 crisis. It is important to bring our members with us and bring other workers on board with the union movement.
The Communist Party of Australia supports the PSA’s campaign for a wage rise that will meet the current cost of living and restore real income lost through years of wage restraint and a lack of proper bargaining. Power to the public sector workers through unity and solidarity!