Health workers leaving NSW for better pay spurs union to ‘escalate industrial action’

The Guardian, 4 July 2023

Health Services Union says wages have hit rock bottom and contributed to 12,000 vacancies as workers head interstate

Health workers heading interstate for better pay is one reason a New South Wales union is threatening “escalating industrial action” from next week.

Health Services Union delegates on Tuesday voted to recommend members take action unless the NSW government changed its offer of a 4% wage rise by Friday.

The union wants a 6% rise excluding super or a flat rise of $3,500 that would most benefit those on lower pay.

A final decision will be made by tens of thousands of members in local branches at hospitals, ambulance stations and aged care facilities.

Wages had hit rock bottom in NSW and contributed to the 12,000 vacancies in the state health system, the union said.

Workers have been leaving for Queensland, ACT and Victoria because the pay is significantly better and housing is cheaper.

“We are prepared to negotiate but the government needs to put an offer on the table for our members to consider,” the union secretary, Gerard Hayes, said.

Industrial action could take many forms, including linen delivery bans, finance processing bans, stop-work orders and strikes.

It is the latest move in the union’s fierce pay dispute with the new Labor government.

The treasurer, Daniel Mookhey, was heckled and asked pointed questions about his own pay packet during an address to the union’s annual conference on Monday.

The government’s 4% offer applies to all public sector workers and is on top of a mandated 0.5% increase in super contributions.

If accepted, it will be backdated to 1 July.

The health minister, Ryan Park, is confident talks with unions will keep progressing but won’t yet entertain an increase to the highest wage offer in the past decade.

“Discussions will take place with unions and with their representatives around what that might look like within a particular workforce,” he said on Tuesday.

“But the treasurer has been very clear about that [offer], so we don’t see that changing any time soon.”

The health system had plans in place should union members take industrial action next week, he said.

If accepted, the government’s wage offer would boost base pay by an extra $2,204 a year for a hospital security guard, $2,970 for a third-year registered nurse or a first-year paramedic and $9,670 for senior specialist doctors.

NSW Health workers who salary-sacrifice will also see a bit more pay through the winding down of a tax measure that only affects those staff.

It comes after inflation in the year to May reached 5.6%, mainly driven by housing, food and household goods and services.