The state government has agreed to begin a conciliation process with the Health Services Union after thousands of staff walked off the job to protest against the “draconian” 2.5 per cent wages cap.
HSU NSW Secretary Gerard Hayes said the conciliation was a “major step forward” in getting the union its 5.5 per cent payrise.
“This has been a good step forward today. The government knows we are serious about our intent in the short term and the long term,” Mr Hayes said.
“I met with Minister (Brad) Hazzard yesterday and the Finance Minister. It was a very good discussion in terms of looking towards the future. No commitments have been made, but at least there is a dialogue beginning.”
Mr Hayes said Mr Hazzard was supportive of the union’s cause but the ball was in Premier Dominic Perrottet and Treasurer Matt Kean’s court.
“We hope that all those concerns will be resolved within or prior to the budget quite frankly … The law has to be changed,” he said.
Mr Hayes said he expected delays across hospitals today and there had been some delays among ambulances following a paramedics meeting on Thursday morning between 7 and 8am.
Speakers were visibly upset as they shared their stories to a backdrop of hundreds of cheers from delegates who travelled from hospitals across the state.
Premier Dominic Perrottet indicated the wage cap for public servants could be lifted to meet inflation, but cautioned it would be measured against budget pressure.
“I don’t want our public services staff to go backwards, (and)with inflation set to increase, (we’re) seeing cost of living pressures right across the board.”
“Now, can we do if we can do more, we will… we’re working with the unions in relation to their needs.
“It’s obviously it’s got to be balanced with the budgetary pressures we’re under.”
AUTUMN OF ANARCHY: MORE STRIKES TO DISRUPT HEALTH, TRANSPORT
Union leaders have pledged to unleash renewed havoc on hospitals and the city’s transport network, in what has been slammed as a political ploy to destabilise the Coalition ahead of next year’s state election.
In an escalation to promises made earlier this year to make 2022 “the year of the strike”, top union leaders have promised “every member of parliament will get to know their members” amid a commitment to dramatically escalate industrial action.
It comes ahead of an unprecedented-in-scale strike of health workers on Thursday, as well as a 24-hour shutdown of NSW’s bus network on Monday amid ongoing pay disputes between unions and Dominic Perrottet’s government.
“We will be engaging in political activity … leading up to the budget – and depending what happens there we’ll be working towards the latter part of the year,” Gerard Hayes, secretary of the Health Services Union said.
“I can absolutely guarantee every member of parliament is going to get to know every single one of my members particularly well over the next 11 months.”
He added the union would pressure the Opposition too to up health workers’ pay ahead of the election.
Paramedics, cleaners, allied health workers and security guards will walk off the jobs for up to four hours on Thursday amid the ongoing pay dispute with the state government.
Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the union had “substantive arguments which the Government is trying to address and balance against the state budget needs”.
“Obviously I think we’d all prefer no strikes but we will continue to work with the organisations that represent our incredible 140,000 staff who make up the biggest Government health agency in the nation,” he said.
Mick Pieri, assistant secretary of the Transport Workers’ Union whose 3000 bus driver members will launch a 24-hour strike on Monday, said the action “is the start” of further strikes.
“Once we’ve taken action, we’re not going to stop. It’s just going to escalate if anything,” he said.
The action will impact commuters like James Frank, who catches a bus from his Waterloo home into the CBD for work every day.
“I don’t blame them (bus drivers) for striking, it’s whoever is devising the bus timetables. You can’t rely on it. I do feel sorry for the bus drivers it’s nothing against them …(but) commuters are fed up,” he said.
Transport Minister David Elliott slammed the protests as a political ploy.
“This is another example of their previously announced year-long campaign against the Coalition leading into the election. It’s very disappointing that they are so keen to disrupt the lives of commuters,” he said.
Opposition leader Chris Minns, who said he supported the actions, bristled at the claims it was a political manoeuvre by the unions, saying: “What’s more believable, a giant conspiracy against the Liberal party or that nurses just can’t pay their mortgages anymore?”
“At the end of the day, you can understand the frustration in particular paramedics are going through,” he said of the health workers’ protests.
“I think strike action of course is always regrettable – but you’ve got to look at it from the perspective of front line workers.”
It comes as the summer of strikes gives way to the autumn of action, with further industrial activity likely beyond next week.
Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) members working for Sydney Trains continue to take low-level industrial action – such as wearing their union shirts instead of their work uniform – but Transport Minister Elliott has managed to stave off more intense activity with the promise of fare free travel last month.
And while members of the NSW Teachers’ Federation settled on not taking strike action in the first term of the year, that agreement expires next term.