- by Richard Titelius
- The Guardian
- Issue #2079
On 10 November 2023, more than 400 public sector workers representing unions with members in the West Australian Public Sector rallied in the Perth Town Hall to hear Premier Roger Cook deliver his pitch for the new wages policy for the public sector. It’s the first time a WA State Premier has addressed public servant unionists this way.
In October public sector workers heard from Treasurer and Deputy Premier Rita Saffioti about the State Treasury’s take on wages policy. This presentation by the Premier, and the public sector union reply would be the last pitch before the government delivers its wages policy in December. The event was fronted by the Public Sector Alliance, the united front for most public sector unions, with the notable exception of the Australian Nursing Federation.
Premier Cook acknowledged the importance the public sector plays in all our lives and told the meeting that he too had worked in the public sector, and had been a member and union delegate at the Art Gallery of Western Australia.
Premier Cook also admitted that his government could not do what it wanted to get done without the public sector turning the Labor Party’s vision into action. As Health Minister during the COVID-19 crisis, Premier Cook was struck by how well and quickly the workers in the Health Sector responded. He also spoke about his intention to bring more government contract workers in-house including Main Roads maintenance crews and the staff of the Peel Health Campus. Premier Cook also said his government was committed to restoring bargaining to the public sector and wanted to reset the relationship with public sector unions to build the capability and capacity of the WA public sector.
The Premier spoke of 1500 people coming to WA every week, people who all need services and infrastructure. The Premier said a genuine tension exists between the expectations of the public sector unions and the need to manage the state’s finances.
The first worker to reply was Kassey Truesdale, an environmental scientist and union delegate of the Community and Public Sector Union/Civil Service Association (CPSU/CSA) at the Department of the Environment and Water Resources, who said there had been no real wage growth in the public sector in more than ten years. This has led to a large number of quality public servants leaving the sector as their knowledge and skill base of the regulatory environmental and water resources framework were attractive to employers in the private sector who pay thousands of dollars more. Employees who remain are increasingly asked to do more with less, and are drowning. Truesdale pointed out that this situation leads to industry frustration as applications and approvals are taking longer to process. The only way to stop failures of government was to pay wages that attract and retain skilled workers.
Paul, a Forensic Pathology scientist and Health Services Union member, said he worked in a high pressure environment helping to solve crime and help keep the state safe. Paul could get paid almost twice his current salary in the private sector, but stays because he wishes to serve the community. He added that public servants needed a wage rise to keep from going backwards.
Reece Young, a teacher at Kalamunda Senior High School and member of the State School Teachers Union, said there are many teachers leaving the sector and few graduates coming out as teaching is seen as a difficult career with a diminishing reward. The right thing to do is to respect teachers by rewarding them appropriately.
Gina, a United Workers Union delegate and cleaner at Scarborough Senior High School said with the rising cost of living, many of her fellow members need to find second jobs to make ends meet, and rising rents have forced many into moving back in with family or living in their cars.
CPSU/CSA State Secretary Rikki Hendon summed up by stating the Premier knows now how public sector workers are feeling about having their wages suppressed, and that they care about their work. However, Hendon reminded union members that the pay rise would not be served up to them on a silver platter and they would have to commit to a sustained campaign to achieve their wage increases over two years of 7 per cent and 5 per cent. “We need to take action during 2024 to secure our wage claim,” concluded Hendon.
The Communist Party of Australia supports the unions in the Public Sector Alliance in their campaign to secure wage justice.