Healthcare workers unleashed on NSW Treasurer Daniel Mookhey over a promise to up public sector wages by 4.5 per cent, which they said failed against inflation.
NSW Treasurer Daniel Mookhey faced a grilling from a crowd of public health workers furious at the state government over unmet wage promises and delayed salary packaging reform.
Mr Mookhey was confronted with multiple tough questions, taunts and barbs mid-speech while speaking at the annual conference for the Health Services Union (HSU).
The organisation is one of the state’s most powerful unions, and represents public health workers including paramedics, orderlies, hospital cleaners, and those working in imaging, pathology and disability care.
Speaking to about 500 delegates in Sydney on Monday, attendees grew increasingly belligerent towards the Treasurer, who appeared in place of NSW Premier Chris Minns, who is currently on leave.
Crowds were especially critical of the government’s 4 per cent wage, and 0.5 per cent superannuation increase to all public sector workers, which has been lashed as not enough.
This is in addition to the government scrapping the public sector wages cap, which they announced on Monday would happen in September.
One emotional member slammed the Treasurer for “not understanding” the struggles of working class people, and questioned whether Mr Mookhey received a pay rise when going from opposition to government.
“When your families go to hospital, who looks after them? We do. Not the nurses, we do. We make sure everything is done,” said Edalina Hondros, a clinical support officer working in Fairfield.
The Treasurer attempted to quell the dissent and said the government would continue to bargain “in good faith,” and said it “was not correct of the labour movement to suggest it’s not a big win”.
“That is something this movement should be proud of,” he said.
“We respect your democratic processes. We respect you have every right to consider our offer.”
While they were in the minority, members in the crowd shouted: “Pay us more”.
Treasurer flags salary packaging reform
Mr Mookhey also drew growing dissent from the crowd when he announced the government would work to reform salary packaging arrangements.
Currently workers on Health Service Union Awards only keep 50 per cent of salary packaging benefits, however this would increase to 50 to 60 per cent from July 2023.
The Treasurer said he would establish a “pathway to reform” for the figure to reach 100 per cent, which was an election promise made by Labor, however he did not disclose a time frame for the change.
In March this year, Mr Minns, Mr Mookhey and Health Minister Ryan Park wrote to the union promising Labor would commit $60m over three years to “commence this reform immediately”.
On Monday, however, Mr Mookhey’s announcement drew vocal jabs from the crowd, some of whom wore red caps with the phrase: “Stop the steal”.
Delegates were heard shouting: “How hard is it,” and “It’s not your money”.
HSU secretary flags more industrial action
Speaking to media after Mr Mookhey’s speech, NSW secretary Gerard Hayes said delegates would vote on Monday afternoon, where they will decide whether to present the government’s wage increase to the union’s 47,000 members.
Alternatively, delegates can refuse the combined 4.5 per cent pay offer, and continue negotiations, which could open the state to further industrial action.
Given the reception during Mr Mookhey’s speech, Mr Hayes said the latter was most probable.
Mr Hayes has also suggested a flat $3500 salary increase instead of the four per cent rise, which would equal almost a 7 to 8 per cent salary increase for hospital cleaners who are on a lower wage.
He said this means “those who need it most, can get some kind of relief now”.
Mr Hayes has been vocal in his criticism of the government’s wages policy, which he said has been too slow, and wasn’t enough to meet rising cost-of-living pressures.
Although he acknowledged the government were “making steps”, he said it wasn’t enough.
“I don’t want a war with these guys but I’m not going to back off, and (it’s a) great credit to Daniel (Mookhey) for turning up today,” he said.
At the end of his speech, Mr Mookhey was commended for answering questions from HSU President Mark Sterrey, who said he was a “longstanding ally” of the union.
“He always turns up to (face) HSU members, whether it’s good or bad,” Mr Sterrey said.
“I wouldn’t like to be the treasurer at the moment … after 12 years of conservatives ruling the state.”
The Treasurer also paid tribute to the family of Steven Tougher – the NSW paramedic who was killed after he was stabbed while on shift in a Campbelltown parking lot.