- by Richard Titelius
- The Guardian
- Issue #2068
On Monday evening 14th August 2023, at the CSA Centre in Perth, the peak union body Unions WA, launched its campaign for a new industrial agreement. This would be the second occasion in recent years public sector unions had come together to run a campaign for improved wages and conditions, the first being against Premier Mark McGowan.
The previous wage increases which were eventually settled between the various unions and government after difficult and protracted negotiations, showed that government had little interest in maintaining or improving real wage levels which would attract and retain quality public sector workers. Large numbers of public sector workers began to steadily leave the public service and it became more difficult to recruit good workers.
The Public Sector Alliance includes United Workers Union, Community and Public Sector Union/Civil Service Association(CPSU/CSA), State School Teachers Union, Hospital Services Union, WA Police Union, United Professional Firefighters Union (still fighting the government to complete the last agreement) and the Rail Tram and Bus Union.
Unions WA Secretary Owen Whittle said Public Sector unions had shown with the last agreement that better results were achieved through unity and solidarity, adding that, “We are going to see that spin machine cranked up again once we begin our campaign, as the government will try to divide and conquer individual unions.”
The Alliance is proposing a campaign based on a pay claim of 7 per cent and 5 per cent in 2024 and 2025 – the first increase to restore wages and the second to help to maintain them.
Public sector workers addressed the launch to give examples of the consequences of low wages, and explain what is needed. Virginia, a school cleaning supervisor at Scarborough Senior High School and a delegate with United Workers Union, said that a dip in enrolments at the school had led to cuts in staff and the school were now employing only one cleaner per block whereas previously they had two. The wages of $850 per week meant some who were on rents of up to $750 per week were experiencing housing stress, and Virginia knew of at least one cleaner who was living out of her car with the difficulty of preparing meals without a stove meaning takeaways on most occasions. The rising cost of bills such as utilities and transport costs such as petrol created stress especially for cleaners with small families.
The Communist Party of Australia supports the call of the Public Sector Alliance in WA for a campaign to achieve wage justice to relieve cost of living pressures for existing workers in the public sector and also recruit and retain new workers who are urgently needed to help ease the burden of overworked and stressed out staff. It is only through the unity and solidarity of the organised working class, in this case the unions united under the banner of the Public Service Alliance, that workers can achieve sufficient power to force the government to negotiate genuinely and in good faith.