‘Advice from Putin’: Union boss slams new fines for industrial action

The Daily Telegraph, 23 June 2022

A bid to increase illegal strike action fines has seen union bosses blast Dominic Perrottet, going as far as to claim the NSW Premier is “taking advice from Vladimir Putin”.

Union bosses have slammed Premier Dominic Perrottet as taking “advice from Vladimir Putin” after the government moved to dramatically increase fines for unions who strike in defiance of the Industrial Relations Commission.

Health Services Union boss Gerard Hayes said the escalation of fines from $10,000 to $55,000 for the first day of an illegal strike was “outrageous”.

“This is a government who doesn‘t know how to engage, who doesn’t know how to work with unions who are part of the community. It steps back industrial relations 50 years. This is just ridiculous. It also goes (against) the point of, in a democratic society, having the democratic ability of the right to strike,” he said.

“Even in America, in the 30s and 40s, they had the ability to strike. I can only ask if Dominic Perrottet is getting advice from Vladimir Putin. This is just ridiculous.”

Mr Hayes said the HSU normally “runs its own race” but will be speaking to other unions and ”go out hard on this”.

“The last thing I want to do is go on strike, I want to engage and get a mutually assured outcome... This is just ridiculous,” he said.

Unions NSW Secretary Mark Morey said the government was trying to “silence” public sector workers but expected next week’s strikes from nurses, midwives and teachers to most likely go ahead.

“This government spent 11 years disrupting the health sector, the education sector, and public services across the state... When teachers and nurses and cleaners are on the street you know something is wrong,” he said.

“They are simply trying to silence people from their ineptness in managing themselves in government. They haven‘t sat down and negotiated seriously with any of these unions. They are disingenuous in the way they bargain... then they blame each other as Ministers.”

Mr Morey said he will be campaigning to make sure the new fines don‘t get implemented.

“The leadership of those unions will talk with their executives and confirm whether or not the actions will go ahead. I suspect the actions will go ahead,” he said.

It comes as Members of the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association (NSWNMA) will participate in a “mass meeting” over the state government’s “failure” to address the healthcare crisis and staffing ratios.

“We asked for one extra nurse every evening and night shift in remote sites, and the government has said no to this request,” NSWNMA Acting General Secretary Shaye Candish said.

“Despite acknowledging widespread ‘aftershocks’ across the health system from the pandemic and current flu season, the government has ignored the need to address the extra extreme workloads nurses and midwives are juggling.

“The rural and remote incentive packages are welcome, however we still need details of how this will apply to nursing and midwifery.”

NSW teachers have also announced plans to strike next week, with Catholic and public school teachers striking on Thursday.
The government’s new policy came as in a bit to see off a spring offensive of commuter chaos, striking schoolteachers and health workers walking off the job.

The increased penalties, signed off in an emergency cabinet meeting on Wednesday afternoon, would slap a union with a fine of up to $55,000 for the first day of any industrial action launched in defiance of an Industrial Relations Commission ruling.

Fines of up to $27,500 would be imposed for each day after that.

Repeat offenders would face fines of up to $110,000 for the first day of ignoring an IRC ruling, and then up to $55,000 for subsequent days in breach. This will bring penalties in line with those available to courts in Queensland.

Currently unions face just a $10,000 fine for the first day of an illegal strike, and a maximum $20,000 penalty for subsequent offences.

Employee Relations Minister Damien Tudehope said the massive increase in penalties are designed to pose a sufficient deterrent.

“Illegal strike action has had incredibly damaging consequences for students, families and workers across the state,” Mr Tudehope said.

He said that Unions simply see the existing fines as the “cost of doing business”.

It comes after public and Catholic school teachers announced they would walk off the job on June 30 in a historic joint strike set to cause chaos for families.

The government is attempting to stop that strike in the IRC, but the proposed new penalties would not apply.

Mr Tudehope will give notice of the Industrial Relations Act amendment on Thursday and introduce the legislation in August.

He said that if Labor Leader Chris Minns opposes the amendments, he will be acting “as a facilitator of strikes”.

A number of unions have recently launched industrial action in defiance of the IRC, including some Public Service Association workers this month, and nurses in February.

Mr Tudehope said the PSA’s “illegal industrial action” shut down 21 schools supporting students with intellectual and physical disabilities, “as well as educational training units within Juvenile Justice Centres”.

“We want to put a stop to this sort of disruption and disorder and use the established mechanisms of the Industrial Relations Commission to resolve disputes without hurting innocent citizens,” Mr Tudehope said.

It came as Unions NSW secretary Mark Morey warned of a renewed offensive in the ‘year of the strike’.

“I think we’ll see a spring offensive … (The wage cap is) well below inflation, they don’t have a plan past this year or next, and what (Premier Dominic Perrottet has) done is he’s targeted some of the most essential workers in NSW and told them you’ve got a pay cut,” he said.