HSU strikes $3500 pay boost for healthcare workers, threat of industrial action not over

News.com.au, 7 July 2023

After a tense standoff, one group of workers stands to receive a $3500 pay rise, although the threat of industrial action remains.

The NSW government has pledged to give one group of workers a flat $3500 pay rise after a tense stand-off where employees threatened to walk off the job.

Earlier this week, the Health Services Union (HSU) threatened walkouts from Monday if demands for a larger pay increase were not met. The government was given until 5pm on Friday to respond.

Just before 8.30am, HSU NSW secretary Gerard Hayes walked into parliament for a meeting with NSW Health Minister Ryan Park and Industrial Relations Minister Sophie Costis, where a flat pay increase for the union’s 74,000 members was secured.

This figure replaces the government’s current 4 per cent pay increase offer to public sector wages, with the flat rate increasing the wages of some of the state’s lowest paid health workers, like cleaners and security staff, by up to 8 per cent.

Mr Hayes said the pay boost would be remarkable to a worker on $50,000.

“It’s literally the difference between buying bread or buying milk but not being able to buy both,” he said.

“These are their security officers who get bashed every day, these are the cleaners who kept Covid out of hospitals and I think a couple of years after Covid, we’ve forgotten about these people.”

The HSU will now wait to receive a letter in writing confirming the $3500 salary boost, with Mr Hayes set to continue negotiations over salary packaging reform.

In addition to the $3500 pay increase, the union is also calling for all workers under the Health Services Union Award get 100 per cent of their salary packaging benefits. Currently, workers get 50 per cent of the benefit, with Treasure Daniel Mookhey pledging to increase that figure to 60 to 70 per cent.

On Friday afternoon, the HSU confirmed members will pause plans for industrial action, after Mr Hayes said he would ask workers to “hold off” as a sign of goodwill.

“My position will be to hold off on Monday. We will consider the correspondence that we’re going to get (on Friday) so we can be very clear as to what the next steps are,” he said.

However, Mr Hayes was frank in his criticism of the government.

“I think that has been handled appallingly,” he said.

“I can’t overstate how tough it is for people in health care, how tough it is for everybody in the community, so we make no apology for going early (in our negotiations).”

While the government grapples with pacifying the HSU, the opposition has seized on the opportunity to criticise the government’s promise to boost all public sector wages by 4.5 per cent (inclusive of a 0.5 per cent superannuation boost).

Opposition health spokesman Matt Kean accused the government of “throwing money” at the HSU to “make the problem go away”.

He also questioned whether all public servants would be eligible for the $3500 flat rate, over the 4 per cent increase, and said more “transparency” was needed.

“I think the struggling families of NSW are today wondering what’s it going to cost them to pay for Chris Minns’ broken promises,” he said.

“I think it’s a very dangerous precedent.”