The NSW Treasurer Daniel Mookhey has been heckled by health workers during a speech to mark Labor’s 100th day in office in which he pleaded for patience with the government on its signature promise to deliver wage increases for frontline workers.
Mookhey received a mixed reception at a NSW Health Services Union conference on Monday, telling a roomful of delegates the government would formally scrap the controversial public sector wages cap by September but “can’t deliver radical change overnight”.
NSW Treasurer Daniel Mookhey pleaded for patience with the new Labor government as he faced a hostile reception at a NSW Health Services Union conference on Monday.
Relations between Labor and the HSU have been increasingly tense as union secretary Gerard Hayes pushes the government to improve its offer of a 4 per cent pay rise plus 0.5 per cent superannuation amid spiralling cost of living pressures.
The HSU has been pushing for a 6 per cent increase plus the super bump, or a flat pay increase which would see the union’s lowest-paid workers receive a higher proportional wage bump.
On Monday Mookhey, a former union official, told the HSU suggested that offer could be “adjusted”, saying the government would “have those conversations with you in good faith”.
“We’re not going to agree on every single thing, but we’re not going to disrespect you,” he said. “We expect there to be the argy-bargy that happens between governments and unions. So be it.”
And while he received applause over the removal of the wage cap, he faced hostile questioning from the crowd over the mooted pay increase.
During a tense question-and-answer session one woman told the treasurer a 4 per cent pay increase would “not even cover the groceries”.
“Tell me something: you got into that position [as treasurer], did you get a nice pay increase?” she said.
But the treasurer made an impassioned plea for patience with the new government, pointing to the government’s oft-sighted concerns over a debt-laden budget while pointing to his own experience to say he understood the impact of cost of living pressures.
“I am the youngest son of a widow. My father died when I was five. My mother raised me on an account clerk salary … I know exactly what it’s like to find yourself in that situation,” he said.
“I’ve not forgotten my values. That’s actually what drives me.
“I wish we found ourselves in a situation where the budget we have inherited allowed us to do more, but I’m not going to lie about the fact that we have challenges facing the state.”
Hayes has been a vocal critic of the new government over wages policy after Labor campaigned on a promise to lift public sector pay during the election. During the event on Monday the ballroom was filled with photos of Premier Chris Minns wearing prison pyjamas and the slogan “stop the steal”.
He told reporters after the speech that he was disappointed Minns did not appear at the event after previously expecting him. He said he was only told on Friday that Minns — who is currently on leave — would not be at the event, though the premier’s office insisted he had never said he would attend the conference.
HSU delegates were set to vote on whether to take the government’s offer to its members and were likely to vote to continue an ongoing industrial relations campaign.
Mookhey also faced hostile reaction to his announcement Labor will seek to stagger an overhaul to the government’s salary packaging scheme for health workers over a number of years, a key concern for the HSU.
In NSW health workers can only claim half the full entitlement of the salary packaging tax savings, while the rest goes to the government. Prior to the election Minns committed to health workers receiving “100 per cent of the salary packaging benefit”.
Mookhey said on Monday that while the government “remains committed” to that change, the “first stage” from next July would result in between 60 and 70 per cent returned. That prompted jeers from the crowd, and a rebuke from Hayes following the speech.
“I could accept that there might be a transitional period absolutely, but it needs to happen not over three or four years, it needs to happen in a year or two years,” he said.
The push for increased wages comes as the government also faces pressure from the opposition over its pre-election promise that public sector wage increases would be funded through budget savings and productivity gains.
On Monday Mookhey revealed a promised special commission of inquiry into health spending would begin next month.