Unhappy New Year: NSW Paramedics call Minns’ bluff on pay and Triple Zero

  • Published December 11, 2023
  • Industries

The Mandarin, 11 December 2023

Problems continue to mount for the Minns government in New South Wales after private mediation and a wage offer that the Macquarie Street claimed would bring the state paramedics’ pay into line with other states crash landed, prompting a Health Services Union (HSU) collapse in talks.

It appears negotiations between the parties imploded on Friday after the HSU got wind of government backgrounding on the offer, after asking the union to avoid media to help reach a resolution.

Both sides now say they are going to the industrial umpire over each other’s behaviour.

As industrial strife continues to grow over the recently-elected NSW Labor government’s effort to kick most public sector pay negotiations well into next year, the state’s health minister, Ryan Park, was, on Friday afternoon, bravely trying to prop up the government’s offer releasing a bunch of charts with blended figures that ostensibly put the offer to paramedics as an increase of “an average of 19%”.

The HSU has demanded a straight undiluted 20% on the basis it will bring NSW into line with other states who are happily stealing its ambos.

Around 1,900 NSW paramedics are letting the clock run down on renewing their individual professional registrations that roll over on 21 January 2024, creating a New Year’s Eve time bomb for the government.

The government has accused the paramedics of making the Triple-Zero emergency line in NSW as good as functionally useless if they carry out their threat. And potentially killing people, a claim that may have tipped the union’s hand.

The accusation is an obtuse one because it would physically require the government to lock out paras fronting for a shift without full rego. That tactic might work at a drip feed, but not en-masse.

The history of emergency service strikes is that the government not only loses, but the public becomes more willing to fund first responder compensation and campaigns.

The dust-up with the paramedics follows previous HSU stoushes that resulted in state treasurer Daniel Mookhey being heckled at an HSU conference and the union printing posters of premier Chris Minns dressed up as a masked bandit.

The HSU is infuriated with the Minns government because the union backed the Labor in the election campaign on the basis it would deliver meaningful pay rises to its members if elected.

The Minns government is resisting giving ground to the HSU because a concession is likely to embolden other unions to apply greater industrial pressure before the government can service-wide bargaining.

“We are bitterly disappointed the HSU has rejected this and walked out of the mediation this morning,” Park said issuing a swag of graphs to illustrate the government’s offer.

“If this means that triple-zero collapses on 1 January, it will be a disaster for the people of NSW. Vulnerable people will suffer the most, and it may cost lives.

“The offer provides pay increases of 11-25 per cent over four years. This would match NSW paramedic salaries with those in Queensland on the basis of take-home pay, by 1 January 2025. This is what they have asked for.”

The problem the government has is that NSW paramedics are some of the worst paid in the country, especially those in Queensland, where the Annastacia Palaszczuk government has beefed up ambulance and paramedic pay rates to retain staff.

Like the tussle with specialist unions in Canberra, the HSU is holding out for an actual increase in the base rate offered rather than accepting one-off top-ups and sign-on bonuses.

Gerard Hayes, secretary of the NSW Health Services Union appears to have started as he means to continue. Could be awkward.