NSW treasurer heckled over his pay packet at a health union conference

The Guardian, 3 July 2023

Daniel Mookhey defends 4% pay offer to public sector workers in speech to Health Services Union

The New South Wales Labor treasurer, Daniel Mookhey, has been heckled and asked pointed questions about his own pay packet as he defended a below-inflation pay offer to health workers.

Ambulance, aged care and hospital workers have been pushing for a wage increase beyond the 4% rise on offer for all public sector workers.

The offer would mean an extra $2,970 a year for a third-year registered nurse or a first-year paramedic.

But the increase would not cover the rising costs of groceries, electricity and mortgages, Mookhey was told at the Health Services Union’s annual conference in Sydney on Monday.

Other delegates shouted from the floor, saying “pay us what we’re worth” during the treasurer’s speech.

“I don’t understand the way you guys think,” one delegate told the treasurer.

“When you got into that position, did you get a nice pay increase?”

The treasurer confirmed his income increased significantly when Labor won power in March. But he said parliament had recently frozen the pay of all MPs and senior executives for two years, meaning he earned the same as his predecessor.

Mookhey also referenced his migrant mother raising him alone after his father’s death, to stress he understood the pressures working families faced.

“It’s actually what drives me,” he said.

“I well and truly understand just how hard working people are having it right now.

“I wish we found ourselves in a situation where the budget we inherited allowed us to do more.”

Another move that was met with grumbles was a winding down of a measure that delivers 50% of health workers’ savings through salary sacrificing to the state government.

NSW Health workers will now keep 60% of savings, with a commitment to eventually reach the 100% demanded by the union.

“Basically, I can’t deliver radical change overnight, but we are starting the hard work that we have to do,” Mookhey said.

The union’s boss, Gerard Hayes, said the rowdy nature of the conference was a reflection of how his 47,000 members felt. Delegates were likely to recommend further industrial action on Monday afternoon.

“When we’re seeing interest rates going up, cost of living … still well and truly about 4%, we need to do better and we need to do more,” he told reporters.

If a higher offer wasn’t possible, the government should consider a flat pay offer of $3,500 for the current financial year, he said. That would deliver an above-inflation rise to lower-paid workers.

Annual inflation to May was about 5.6%, mainly driven by housing, food and household goods and services.

It comes as the government celebrated its 100th day in office by confirming that its predecessors’ controversial ceiling on public sector pay rises would be officially end in September.

The 10-year policy of the previous Liberal-National government left the wages umpire hamstrung from making decisions above the cap.

The acting premier, Prue Car, said the government had faced “serious and real” challenges, including the public sector pay dispute.

“Even with a huge budget black hole,” the government had offered essential workers the biggest pay rises in more than a decade, she said.

“It has been difficult, being a government is difficult,” Car said.

The leader of the Nationals, Dugald Saunders, said Labor was already breaking promises and cutting spending to regional NSW.

“If you start how you intend to finish then this government is heading for disaster,” he said.