Nurses and health workers protesting the government's wage freeze outside The Tweed Hospital on May 31.
Nurses and health workers protesting the government's wage freeze outside The Tweed Hospital on May 31.

FRONTLINE FURY: ‘Unbelievable’ timing for mooted wage freeze

THE ongoing battle against a proposed public servant wage freeze has come to a head as frontline workers rallied outside the Tweed Hospital on Saturday.

Holding "Stop the Wage Freeze" banners, frontline workers, including nurses and health staff, objected to the wage freeze mooted by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

It is set to affect the state public sector 2.5 per cent annual pay increase for tens of thousands of nurses, doctors, teachers and police from July 1.

On Sunday night, a $1000-a-head peace offering was made to frontline workers in a last-minute bid by the State Government to win support from major unions on the year-long pay freeze.

 

Nurses and health workers protesting the government's wage freeze outside The Tweed Hospital on May 31.
Nurses and health workers protesting the government's wage freeze outside The Tweed Hospital on May 31.

 

Treasurer Dominic Perrottet was in talks with key union bosses, offering the one-off payment to non-executive frontline staff, including nurses, police, paramedics, teachers and train crews, in lieu of the scheduled 2.5 per cent increase.

The offer, which includes a promise of no forced redundancies, was made as the State Government faces defeat this week in parliament's upper house over its wage freeze proposal, which is intended to save $3 billion over four years.

Treasury estimates the one- off payments would cost $20 million.

The government intends to play hard ball. If the pay freeze is blocked in parliament, Mr Perrottet will withdraw the offer of the $1000 and promise of no forced ­redundancies and take the matter to the Industrial Relations Commission.

The negotiations come just days after the government announced it would freeze the pay of more than 400,000 public servants for 12 months.

The NSW Nurses and Midwives' Association described a $1000 one-off cash payment proposed "as a poor attempt to buy off nurses and midwives".

<<READ $1000 for cops, ambos and nurses - but there's a catch>>

Association general secretary Brett Holmes said it wasn't an offer or a negotiation in good faith, but an 11th-hour ultimatum by a government desperate to freeze public sector wages.

An association spokesman said the 2.5 per cent increase could amount to $1000-2000 for the year.

The association's Tweed Hospital branch secretary Pam Barrett said more than
93 per cent of their public sector members indicated their opposition to a wage freeze in a snap poll, while more than 4000 have emailed their local State MPs, urging them to reject it.

"While risking their
lives to protect our community during the coronavirus pandemic, it's abhorrent to be asking frontline nurses and midwives to do more for
less," she said.

"COVID-19 has challenged our public health preparedness and emphasised the incredible resilience of all health workers. They deserve to be recognised for the sacrifices they continue to make."

Member for Tweed Geoff Provest has joined the opposition, including Member for Lismore Janelle Saffin, in backing workers' protests.

He said there had been talk about the wage freeze and he expected it to be up for discussion when parliament resumed this week and he would be standing behind the region's nurses, doctors and first responders.

 

Nurses and health workers protesting the government's wage freeze outside The Tweed Hospital on May 31.
Nurses and health workers protesting the government's wage freeze outside The Tweed Hospital on May 31.

 

"The State Government has some financial issues but at the end of the day we should be respectful of the people who put their lives on the line for us," he said.

Ms Saffin said she had been contacted by a number of local public sector workers who had asked for her support.

She said she would back a disallowance motion proposed by Labor and the Greens in the NSW upper house if government attempted to impose the wage freeze via regulation.

"The timing is unbelievable," she said.

"Senior public servants are getting pay rises. It just seems cruel."

Federal Member for Richmond Justine Elliot said she condemned the plans to cut the wages of hardworking public sector workers.

"These local workers are the heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic," she said.

"In the Tweed electorate this includes pay cuts to 621 teachers, 620 health workers and 159 police officers.

"Reasonable wage increases are also a vital stimulus measure.

"It is time to put dollars in pockets, not take them away. A pay cut to locals is a major blow to our economic recovery and will devastate hundreds of local families.

"Our struggling local small businesses will also suffer if people have less money in their pockets to spend."

Ms Barrett said the middle of a pandemic was "hardly the time to be asking frontline nurses and midwives to suck it up, show up for their shifts and do even more for less".

"The government cannot deny the sacrifices of frontline workers, especially when more than half of the 144 NSW Health workers who have contracted COVID-19, acquired it while at work," she said.

"These workers deserve recognition, not attempts by government to send wages backwards and our economy into further turmoil.

"We are all preparing for a second wave of COVID-19, yet the government is asking nurses and midwives to do more for less, putting the budget bottom line before people in need.

"The Treasurer wants to ignore the efforts of frontline workers and unions operating in good faith, by planning a wage freeze for all public sector workers."

 

Articles contributed by Margie Maccoll were supported by the Judith Neilson Institute of Journalism and Ideas.



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