Paramedics, nurses and midwives have launched industrial action against the NSW government’s planned 12-month wage freeze.
From Monday night, NSW paramedics were refusing to bill patients, while nurses and midwives started rolling demonstrations outside the state parliament from Tuesday.
Both actions are in protest at the proposed 12-month public pay freeze for the state’s 400,000 public servants, announced by Premier Gladys Berejiklian last week.
The state government wants the freeze to save $3 billion because of the economic damage wrought by COVID-19 restrictions. It says the money will be reinvested in public projects.
Amid a growing outcry at the move, the state government has since offered public servants a one-off $1000 stimulus payment, at a cost of about $200 million. Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said that would leave the government with $2.8 billion to reinvest.
If the offer is rejected and the NSW upper house rejects the government’s proposal – as seems likely – the argument about the pay freeze will go to the industrial relations commission.
“In a decision between giving people a pay cheque or a pay rise, I’ll choose a pay cheque every day of the week,” Mr Perrottet told 2GB Radio on Tuesday.
But unions have called the idea insulting, with the Australian Paramedics Association executive urging action.
“For months we have put our health and our lives on the line in the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to that we worked through months of fires and then floods,” the APA executive said in a statement on Monday.
“Standing alongside our colleagues, we have been at the frontline of all these crises. Despite this, all the NSW government has for us is empty words.”
As well as the billing ban, the association wants members to use liquid chalk to write slogans on their ambulances against the pay freeze.
NSWNMA general secretary Brett Holmes on Tuesday said nurses and midwives felt insulted by the government’s action and frustrated by the “hollow thank-yous” from Mr Perrottet and Ms Berejiklian.
Mr Holmes said nurses and midwives would rely on key members of the NSW upper house on Tuesday to block the government’s proposal.
NSW Labor, the Greens and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party are expected to support a disallowance motion rejecting the regulation when it’s put forward in parliament on Tuesday afternoon.
Last week, SFF leader Robert Borsak ruled out backing the bill, saying it would disproportionally affect people in rural and regional areas.
“We don’t see that this is fair for the bush in what’s being offered,” he said.
“They don’t have a track record of meeting their promises to our party in the past and we’re not confident that that will happen in the future.”
Ms Berejiklian has warned public sector jobs are at risk if the freeze is blocked. The government has pledged it will not make any forced redundancies for 12 months if its freeze is accepted.