Workers keeping NSW roads safe and functioning amidst yet another weather-related crisis have been trapped in a classic Catch 22.
They’re too important to be allowed to strike – but not important enough to warrant a decent pay rise.
That’s the result of a NSW Industrial Relations Commission decision late Wednesday that ordered transport workers to call off a planned 24-hour strike in support of an end to real wage cuts for workers due to the state’s failure to offer a pay deal that keeps pace with inflation.
Members from the following unions are banding together to call out the NSW government’s refusal to lift its public sector pay offer above three per cent despite inflation exceeding five per cent:
- The Australian Workers Union (AWU)
- Australian Manufacturing Workers union (AMWU)
- Construction, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU)
- The Electrical Trades Union (ETU)
The government offer would lock in an effective pay cut for essential workers.
The AWU is calling for workers to put down tools for a 24 hour period from Thursday – the first such industrial action of its kind in decades.
It follows on from similar industrial action taken recently by other public sector workers who have been caught up in NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet’s pay trap.
AWU NSW branch organiser Cameron Wright spoke with On the Job moments after the NSW Industrial Relations Commission order was handed down.
“[The Commission] argument centred around how essential these workers will be given the ongoing weather system causing havoc in the state at the moment. If anything, it furthers our argument. We’re talking about taking industrial action because these guys are essential workers,” he says.
“These are the workers that cancelled their leave during the Black Summer bushfires so that they could make the roads safe. We saw the same during the recent floods in the Northern Rivers region around Lismore. We still have seven crews working remotely in that region trying to clear the debris and repair the roads system to make it safe.”
“It’s similar to the nurses, teachers and other public sector workers whose work is essential to the well being of the community. To be stuck under the NSW Government wages cap is just dreadful,” Wright says.
Wright points out that the government offer of a three per cent increase is a misnomer as workers on state Awards would see any other increase – such as the legislated superannuation increase from 10 per cent to 10.5 per cent that came into effect this week – trimmed from any proposed wage increase.
“Effectively, we’re looking at a 2.5 per cent pay increase for absolutely essential workers that is less than half the rate of inflation,” he says.
“We’ve been hearing from the Reserve Bank and other economists that inflation could hit the 7% mark.”
“To have these essential workers that are so important that they can’t possibly be permitted to take industrial action to be given a huge pay cut in real wages is unacceptable,” Wright says.
The situation is similar for public transport workers in the state, with the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) before the Commission today as the NSW Government attempts to stop industrial action in support of a decent wage rise.
Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus highlights how the current workplace laws and enterprise bargaining are broken and no longer allow for workers to achieve decent pay increases.
“Clearly the current system is failing. It is unable to deliver wage increases despite low unemployment, high productivity and high profits. Working people are feeling the serious consequences of nearly 10 years of inaction by the previous Government,” she says.
“Our country needs to take a fresh look at this problem and address it. It is not acceptable that working Australians and their families continue to go backwards while big business does so well.”
“It’s simple: If working Australians don’t have money in their pockets, and they’re trying to choose between paying an energy bill or putting food on the table, they’re not going to be spending on discretionary items. This will cause real damage to the economy. Wage growth is an essential to sustainable economic growth,” McManus says.