Health workers to stop work in first major union action of Chris Minns’ tenure

The Daily Telegraph, 2nd May 2023

Health workers will today walk off the job in a bid to get the NSW government to deliver on its pre-election promise to scrap the public sector wage cap.

In the first major industrial action since Chris Minns became Premier in March, health workers will strike on the NSW North Coast with Health Services (HSU) boss Gerard Hayes warning of more unrest if their demands were not met. 

Mr Hayes said union members had backed Mr Minns’ campaign for Macquarie Street, now it was time for him to hold up his end of the bargain and start pay negotiations.

He said if the government failed to prioritise the discussions, industrial action would “keep building and building” down the NSW coast.

“The message is very clear – our members supported Labor. They supported a vision for the future. But at the moment they’re not seeing anything and it’s looking like the status quo – we’re not about the ‘hurry up and wait’,” Mr Hayes told The Daily Telegraph. 

“This is the starting point. We’ll …. go right across the state. We’ll just keep building and building. We’re not going to take second best … our people who hold the (health) system together are not going to be treated as second-class citizens.”

The union is also fighting salary packaging conditions for key workers in NSW.

Mr Hayes said more than a month after Mr Minns was elected, he still had no clarity around when Labor would fulfil its election promises.

“At the moment we’re a month and a bit down the track (since Labor was elected) and I can’t tell (union members) where we’re going to,” he said.

The HSU is one of NSW’s largest unions and includes hospital cleaners, administration staff and pathology employees, who will walk off the job at north coast facilities for at least an hour today.

“We are the second biggest affiliate to the ALP – but I’ve always made it clear it’s (about) how our members are supported,” Mr Hayes said. “Our members have worked hard in health and now we’ve got a new government and a new broom, (but) at the moment we’re not seeing any sweeping.”

The return of broad-scale industrial action comes after unions blighted the final year of the Perrottet government in what was dubbed “the year of the strike”.

Thousands of teachers demonstrated outside NSW Parliament multiple times in 2022, while the Rail, Tram and Bus Union spent much of last year in a war with the Perrottet government over pay and working conditions, causing chaos across the train network with frequent strikes.

A NSW government spokeswoman said it was “determined” to scrap the wages cap and had met with most of the major unions since coming to power in late March.

“Having been in government for a month we have met with most unions and are very pleased with the progress we have made in relation to the removal of the wages cap,” the spokeswoman said.

“We’ve said it would take time. But we’re determined to do it.”