NSW paramedics given wage offer ahead of New Year’s Eve deadline that could ‘cripple triple-0’

  • Published December 8, 2023
  • Industries

The Australian, 8 December 2023

NSW’s New Year’s Day celebrations could be thrown into chaos as more than 2100 paramedics will be unable to work following a registration boycott, following a protracted wage dispute with the NSW government.

Negotiations came to a stand still on Friday morning after the Health Services Union (HSU) rejected the offer of an average 19 per cent rise to take home pay, which includes the base pay, plus penalties and entitlements.

However, the union has accused the government of “misleading” the public, with figures that weren’t put forward during negotiations. Additionally they say the changes to base pay, would still see NSW paramedics earn at least 6 per cent less than their Queensland counterparts.

Health Minister Ryan Park said he was “bitterly disappointed” at the outcome, and said the “once in a generation offer” was the biggest deal of its kind made to the public service.

“I want to say to the people of NSW that the NSW government understands the risks and danger this action poses,” he said.

“The reality is this. If that many paramedics decided not to turn up from January 1, a minute past midnight on New Year’s Eve, that threatens to collapse triple-0.”

Mr Park said the government was now considering contingency plans, in the advent the issue is not resolved past the fast-approaching December 31 deadline. This included the potential of bringing parliament to consider powers listed in the Essential Services Act.

“We’re certainly not at that point at the moment but we are working on a range of different contingencies around that and we will, depending on how we go over the course of the next few days, continue to update the community going forward,” he said.

NSW Health secretary Susan Pearce said New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day period was one of the busiest across the health system.

If the action proceeds, she said NSW Health would not be able to “replace those paramedics in any other way that will would sufficiently mitigate that risk”.

“Our emergency departments are very busy on those days. There’s no question that if this action goes ahead as planned, for the first of January, it will have a significant impact on the health system,” she said.

“We believe that the government has made an offer that they should consider carefully, that is their right but it is our job to do our best to protect the public and to work with our paramedics because none of us, including our hardworking, dedicated paramedics want to see any harm come to our community.”

NSW Treasurer Daniel Mookhey said the government agree that paramedic pay should reflect the value of their work, and said the government had made a “bold offer” to the workforce.

“That would see an average increase for our paramedics of 19.6 per cent … it’s disappointing that the HSU has walked away from that,” he said.

“The paramedics might want to punish the government but they shouldn’t be punishing the public by bringing an end to Triple 0.”

NSW Opposition Leader Mark Speakman said the wage blow up was the government’s own making.

“The paramedics are understandably furious because they’ve been lied to they’ve been let down,” he said.

“I say to paramedics: ‘I understand you’re furious, I understand your grievances, but please do what you always done and put public safety first’.”

What have NSW paramedics been offered?

On Friday morning, HSU delegates, and HSU secretary Gerard Hayes met with treasury and health bureaucrats, with the goal of seeking clarity over the increase to the base wage for paramedics.

They are calling for a 20 per cent catch up in base pay, in order to reach pay parity with their Queensland counterparts, in addition to the existing base public sector pay rise, of 4 per cent, plus a 0.5 per cent bonus to superannuation.

According to the government, the HSU was offered a deal which would increase a paramedic’s take home pay by 11 to 25 per cent over four years.

A typical first year paramedic’s take home pay would increase by 11.4 per cent, from $123,594 to $137,683.72, while a sixth year paramedic’s pay would increase by 25.8 per cent, from $132,544 to $166,740.

This, however, has been rubbished by the union.

They say figures shown to them revealed first year paramedics would instead get a 11.4 per cent increase to their base pay over four years, which would bring their salary from $74,364 to $82,877.

For a sixth year paramedic, their 25.8 per cent pay increase over four years would still put them at least 6 per cent behind their Queensland counterparts.

Mr Hayes said the “workforce (was) crumbling” due to the current wages.

“The inadequate offer we received this morning does not fix the problem. Under this proposal we will never catch up with Queensland. And that means paramedics will just keep leaving.

“More than 500 paramedics have left NSW in the last six months. Many hundreds more will leave in the next six months.”

During a stop work meeting held on Friday afternoon, HSU members remained supportive of the registration boycott with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).

As a result, more than 2100 paramedics will not be able to be rostered on, or be paid by NSW Health from January 1.

Speaking at the meeting one member who worked on the NSW and ACT capital said he couldn’t “blame anyone for jumping ship over to the territory. It just makes sense”.

Another member urged the government to act quickly, with paramedics financially struggling to make ends meet.

“At this point, I don’t have six or more months to wait my bank account is bare. I don’t have the option of negotiating things anymore,” she said.

“It just feels so disrespectful and so out of touch with the reality of paramedics in NSW. every time they come to us with these offers it just it continues to feel like a slap in the face, and then a thank you as we’re walking out the door.”

Prior to Friday’s meeting, Mr Hayes appeared optimistic at potentially negotiating an outcome.

“We are prepared to put in an offer to our members today. The problem we had last night is I couldn’t understand what they were saying,” he said.

“The paramedics behind me do not want to leave NSW (but) they cannot afford to live in NSW.

“I want to be very clear. The paramedics in every regional and metropolitan station do not want to leave but they can’t afford to stay.”

About an hour and a half later, Mr Hayes said he had been “requested not to talk to the media,” and said it had “been suggested that we may be put into the Industrial Relations Commission”.

“I intend to put ourselves in the Industrial (Relations) Commission today and have it out. I will not be threatened,” he said.