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Issue #1936      12th October, 2020


Berejiklian denies workers’ pay rise

In April, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian stated: “Our health professionals are among the best in the world and we must do everything we can to help them not just now but also in the weeks and months ahead as we battle this virus.”

One month after making that statement, Berejiklian and her government changed its tune.

In May, the government proposed a public sector wage freeze. The freeze would see 400,000 public sector employees forego a 2.5 per cent pay rise for twelve months. According to the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), “Greens MP David Shoebridge said a public servant on $80,000 would lose $2000 as a result of the freeze.” Labor leader Jodi McKay saw the move as “a kick in the guts and a slap in the face” to public sector employees.

The government scrambled for support, attempting to get crossbench MPs to sign on but their rhetoric fell on deaf ears with Shooters, Farmers and Fishers Party MP Robert Borsak stating that “we don’t see that this is fair for the bush in what’s being offered.”

In June, the ALP, Greens, One Nation, “Shooters,” and Animal Justice Party delivered a resounding defeat of the bill to freeze wages (twenty-two MPs in total). That, however, was not the end of the matter.

According to the ABC at the time, “state Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said it would continue to pursue the wage-freeze bid” – and it did.

The government took the matter to the New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission, and the outcome was a blow to public sector workers. The Commission “found public servants are entitled to maintain the real value of their earnings” (Canberra Times) and that a wage freeze would see workers have a reduction of 0.3 per cent in the real value of their earnings. As a result, the Commission decided to award workers a 0.3 per cent pay rise “to avoid such a reduction.” To borrow Shoebridge’s example, a public servant on $80,000 now receives a mere additional $240.

The decision caused an outcry in the labour movement.

The Public Service Association general secretary, Stewart Little said, “We see this decision as absolutely diabolical.”

NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association general secretary, Brett Holmes, qualified the outcome as “disgraceful.”

Despite making the awful call, it seems even the IRC understood the impact of its decision: “We recognise that it will do little to alleviate the concerns of those witnesses and any like-minded co-workers who see the employers’ position in these proceedings as failing to recognise, let alone reward, their efforts.”

Furthermore, despite the bad call, the IRC noted that “there is no evidence that the pandemic has resulted in forced redundancies or other job losses in the government sector in NSW.” That is to say, the government sector has largely been protected from the impacts of COVID-19.

Yet, this has not stopped Perrottet from continuing to promote this decision as the best course of action for the state, saying: “Our complete focus is on keeping people in jobs and creating jobs rather than giving pay-rises at this time.”

Of course, the details behind the NSW Coalition’s plan are as of yet unknown. Those details will likely be disclosed when the Coalition releases its budget in mid-November. It will be interesting to see what jobs the NSW coalition plans on creating with the money it has stolen from workers.

Next article – A working class milestone to celebrate

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