NSW Premier Chris Minns is under mounting pressure to intervene in the state’s public sector pay dispute, with members of the NSW health workers union endorsing strike action from Monday unless they receive a better offer than the 4.5 per cent now on offer.
On Wednesday, almost 100 off-duty paramedics marched to the Premier’s office in Martin Place, in Sydney’s CBD, demanding action on pay, with Health Services Union NSW boss Gerard Hayes demanding Mr Minns return from leave to deal with the threat of looming industrial action.
“At the moment, nothing is going to save this government. Where is Chris Minns? Why isn’t he here?” Mr Hayes asked.
“You are in government – unfortunately you’re not in this building – I think you’re at Lennox Head,” Mr Hayes said, addressing the Premier who has taken a few days’ leave to spend school holidays with his children.
“This is not going to go away. This is not a war I chose but if you want to stare us down, do it at your peril.”
HSU delegates have endorsed “escalating industrial action” from Monday unless the government presents a concrete pay offer by Friday.
The union’s 74,000 members are demanding a 6 per cent wage bump or a flat $3500 annual salary boost for their workers.
They also want all health workers to get the full benefit of salary packaging.
The exact nature of any industrial action would be decided by members in their local area but may include linen delivery bans and finance processing bans as well as stop-work orders and strikes, Mr Hayes said.
“We are prepared to negotiate but the government needs to put an offer on the table for our members to consider,” he said.
On Wednesday, the opposition joined calls for Mr Minns to return from leave, with health spokesman Matt Kean claiming the wage increase could not be offset by productivity gains and would cost the budget at least $2.5bn over the next four years.
“Labor can’t deliver on their promise to the HSU and health workers because they have no way to pay for wage increases,” Mr Kean said.
“With the HSU warning of escalating industrial action from Monday, including stop-work orders and strikes, it is quite frankly remarkable that Premier Minns is on leave and either unavailable or unwilling to sit down with union bosses to reach a resolution.
“Minns needs to return to work, sit down at the table, and solve this deadlock to ensure any industrial action is avoided.”
The opposition said if the government granted the HSU demands, other unions would follow suit.
In an interview to mark his first 100 days in office, Mr Minns told The Australian last week he was prepared to hold the line on the offer of a 4.5 per cent wage increase, inclusive of a 0.5 per cent lift in super.
Pushed on whether the government had room to move in its negotiations, Mr Minns said: “Well, that’s the offer we’ve made to public sector workers and some of them have taken it back to their members already … I’m hopeful we can get an accommodation with everybody soon.”