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Labor Motion - Pay Increase for State Service Employees

28 November 2018

That the House - 

(1) Supports nurses, teachers, park rangers, allied health workers and 
other public sector workers in their right to take industrial action. 

(2) Agrees that the actions of these workers have been responsible, 
measured and designed to demonstrate the value they provide to the 
community.

(3) Recognises that the 2 per cent state wages policy was introduced in 
2011 following the global financial crisis and in response to contracting 
revenues. 

(4) Acknowledges that state taxes and GST receipts are growing again and 
private sector wages increased by 2.8 per cent in the year to September 
2018. 

(5) Further recognises that CPI is increasing at 2.7 per cent, which 
means the 2 per cent wage offer from Government is actually a wage cut. 

(6) Further recognises that Tasmanians deserve a pay rise that keeps up 
with the cost of living. 

(7) Calls on the Government to scrap the wage cap.

 

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Deputy Speaker, we will be 
supporting this motion brought on by the Leader of the Opposition 
supporting the unions' collective campaign to have good-faith negotiations 
and for the wages cap to be scrapped. We still have not heard from the 
Treasurer any sound justification for not entering into good-faith 
negotiations with the people who are the glue of our society, our public 
sector workers. What this is all about, at the end of the day, is respect, 
and it is a lack of respect for the state's many, many thousands of public 
servants that has driven this industrial campaign.

I have had conversations and briefings with union leaders as well as the 
people they represent who are working out there looking after our kids, 
looking after people who end up in the emergency ward, dealing with 
community safety, and it is absolutely clear that this industrial action 
was the last resort. It was entered into out of a deep sense of 
frustration, of not being valued and of being misled. How galling it must 
be for those thousands of people who go out every day and work for and on 
behalf of the people of Tasmania to hear the Treasurer of the state say we 
are in a golden age. A golden age for whom? Not for the thousands and 
thousands of public sector workers who hold this state together. 

The issue here is that it was seven years ago that the 2 per cent wages 
cap was put in place as a responsible measure of fiscal discipline for 
which we in government certainly copped a slapping from the union movement
. It was not easy to do, but we recognised that as a temporary measure it 
was necessary. That was in the context of a global financial crisis and a 
recession that had reached Tasmania, a small island state.

Seven years later and public sector workers are still on a 2 per cent 
wages cap, while in this place in 2016 they had to watch as this 
Government brought on legislation to give members of parliament a pay rise 
at the wages price index. The Liberal Government of the day brought in 
legislation to this place, agreed with itself that politicians deserve a 
pay rise set at the higher level, which is the wages price index, and 
tells the thousands of people who go out and work every day to make 
Tasmania a safer, more educated and healthier place that they can get 
nicked and sit on 2 per cent a year. To add insult to this total lack of 
respect, we have the Treasurer using taxpayer funds to mislead the people 
of Tasmania about that 2 per cent cap, to treat people as if they are 
stupid and add up 2 per cent year on year for three years and put it out 
there that public sector workers are getting a 6 per cent wage rise over 
three years. 

What Mr Gutwein did not say in those taxpayer-funded advertisements is 
that members of parliament, under legislation they brought in, will get 
between 8 per cent and 9 per cent over that same period. It is one rule 
for the Liberal elite and it is another rule for the thousands of people 
who every day in this state go out there and work hard out of a sense of 
public duty. It is contempt for the institution of the public service we 
are seeing here, and is in stark contrast to the motion we debated 
previously in government members' time that was all about the money, the 
economy, jobs and growth. Those principles are being increasingly 
rejected by the people of Australia because in broad terms, they recognise 
we live in a society, not an economy. 

We never hear government ministers get up in this place and talk with real 
heart and feeling about community and what community means, about human 
values, decency, sharing, inclusiveness and respect. We do not hear about 
that, we only hear about the money. It is always about the money and it 
is galling. 

Mr Hidding - With you it's never about the money, that's the problem.

Ms O'CONNOR - Mr Hidding, you are again being dishonest in this place. As 
a minister of the Crown for four years, I successfully administered a 
portfolio working alongside some fantastic people in various government 
agencies whose work I valued and respected and to this day remain thankful 
for. I administered those portfolios and those very large budgets in 
Human Services, respectfully, carefully, cautiously but also through the 
lens of a set of values. The only thing these people value is money. It 
all comes down at the end of the day to the dollar, like we live in an 
economy, not a society, not on a planet. It is galling every time. It 
distresses me on behalf of our children that we have a party of government 
in this country that classifies people into two categories, lifters and 
leaners. No-one will ever forget former treasurer Joe Hockey -

Mr O'Byrne - Sloppy Joe.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you. No-one will ever forget that because what it 
said to people living on the breadline or the socioeconomic margins was, 
'You have no value because you do not earn enough. You are a leaner, 
while we, the party of government, are the lifters and we lift on behalf 
of corporations, our donors, private enterprise and any developer who 
turns up.'. 

I want to talk a little today about some of the people who are the glue of 
our schools and in our education system, and that is the admin support 
staff in our schools. Too often it is not appreciated how they are the 
glue that holds schools together. 

Ms O'Byrne - Hear, hear. They are good people and do an amazing job. We 
talk about principal stress but that plays right down into that whole 
administrative stream.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is right. We had a fantastic conversation the week 
before last, which was organised by the union. I met Breana from 
Lindisfarne, Michelle from Rose Bay, Karen from Rose Bay, Angela from the 
CPSU, Kate from Margate, Amanda from Launceston College and Janelle from 
Prince's Street Primary. Thursa White was also there. [TBC all names]

The story we heard, of the change of duties, the increase in workload, the 
increased complexity of the students schools are dealing with, and they 
were very confronting stories. We take administration staff in schools 
for granted but so much of the school's business would not be done without 
them. Principals would fall over. School populations are shifting, but 
there has not been an examination of the statement of duties for 
administrative and support staff in our schools since 2008. For a whole 
decade, we have not had a look at the workload, the stresses or the 
capacity of our administration staff. Like so many public sector workers 
in Tasmania, they feel undervalued, unheard and unsupported by the 
Government of the day.

There are administrative staff in our schools, highly-skilled staff, who, 
for the love of their job, have stayed in a school that has seen its 
student population increase from 350 to 450 students with no extra 
administrative support for that school. For anyone here who is a parent 
and has taken their children to school, you know the administrative staff 
are the front line of dealing with parents, students and the complexities 
of the school's working environment. We heard at the meeting the other 
day that the Minister for Education and Training will not sit down with 
these extraordinary public sector workers.

Mr O'Byrne - I cannot understand it. He cannot even to talk to people.

Ms O'CONNOR - He cannot even talk to people and that goes to the arrogance 
and the lack of respect. Partly, it goes to fear because the ministers of 
the day and the Treasurer are afraid to have to confront the reality of 
what this 2 per cent wages cap is inflicting on people such as the 
administrative staff in our schools. It is arrogance to not negotiate in 
good faith or have a really good look at the workload, the changing nature 
of administrative work in schools or the increased complexity of many of 
the students who come into schools.

It must be fear of hearing the facts. Apart from arrogance and disrespect, 
there is no justification for a minister not sitting down with one of his 
key stakeholders or having the respect to talk to administrative staff in 
schools and find out how it is going for them. The take-away from the 
meeting I had the other day is that schools are almost at breaking point, 
from the principal through to the teachers, the support staff and the 
administrative staff. It is all held together because of the quality and 
the commitment of these public sector workers, who we intrust our children 
to every day when we send them to our schools in the public education 
system.

We have administrative staff now having to undertake first aid, having to 
change peg-feeding for students with disabilities. We have administration 
staff in schools who simply do not take a break during the day. They just 
do not. It might be that their conditions require they take a break but 
they care so much they often do not take a break because if they did, the 
work is not done. The newsletter does not go out. Awareness of the 
circumstances of a student who needs looking out for, contact with parents, 
will not happen unless the administrative workers stay on the job.

The wages cap should be scrapped and Tasmanian public sector workers need 
a pay rise. I do not think the Treasurer fully understands he is going to 
lose this fight. He is going to lose it because of the determination, the 
remarkable will and collectivism of public sector workers across all 
fields in Tasmania who have had it up to their chins with being 
disrespected and undervalued. They have taken this rolling, sustained 
industrial action in order to bring the Government to the table. 

The Government will have to come to the table. The Premier and the 
Treasurer will have to come to the table. If the Treasurer thinks he can 
dig in and not negotiate in good faith, not commit to scrapping the 2 per 
cent cap and sail through to the next election without industrial strife 
at his back, he is mistaken. Mr Bacon is right. The Treasurer sees 
himself as the anointed one for the Premier's job, for the top job. That 
is hubris, as we know, but he has been putting staff on, who understand 
that it could be 18 months, it could be two years, but everything will 
change.

Mr O'Byrne - I understand there has been a change in demeanour as well.

Ms O'CONNOR - Do you think there has been a change in demeanour?

Mr O'Byrne - I have nothing to compare it to, I was not here. From what I 
hear, he is trying to be more statesmanlike, trying to prepare for the 
role. It is not working, is it?

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes, yes. That is right. He does not do statesman all that 
well. A real statesman would have the humility, because it is a quality 
of statesmanship to be humble, receptive and empathetic, and the political 
foresight to sit down with the unions, with public sector workers, and 
negotiate in good faith.

Mr O'Byrne - And to know when you are done.

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes, to know when you are done, to see the future and 
understand there is only pain ahead for the Government. 

In a way, public sector workers do not have much to lose. They are stuck 
on 2 per cent. They are disregarded by the Liberals in Government. They 
have sought to achieve good faith negotiations and meetings with ministers
. They have nothing to lose now. I predict the thousands of public 
sectors workers represented by the unions undertaking this campaign will 
win. Those unions are the Community and Public Sector Union, the 
Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, the Health and Community 
Services Union, United Voice, the Australian Education Union and United 
Firefighters Union. Have I missed anyone, Mr O'Byrne?

Mr O'Byrne - Nurses. Nursing and Midwifery.

Ms O'CONNOR - I have the ANMF.

Mr O'Byrne - Professionals Australia, and you will have the AWU and the 
AMWU.

Ms O'CONNOR - AWU, Electrical Trades Union, yes.

Mr Gutwein likes to 'other' people, and 'othering' is a term that loosely 
describes boxing a group of people and using language in such a way that 
encourages misunderstanding and potentially vilification of people. Mr 
Gutwein 'others' union members and he 'others' unions. He spends a lot of 
time in this place union-bashing, allowing himself to believe that unions 
of themselves are a standalone entity. They are not. The unions 
represent the workers. For public sector workers the unions are their 
voice, and a strong voice they are, with a long campaign of successful 
industrial action in Tasmania when they have had governments that either 
disrespected public sector workers or made decisions that impacted 
negatively on the lives of public sector workers.

I want to close with a statement from a TasTAFE teacher who was at the 
Australian Education Union forum on Friday, which the Leader of the 
Opposition attended, and as I recall, almost every member of the 
parliamentary Labor Party. There was not a single Liberal MP or minister 
in sight, apart from Madam Speaker, who had the grace to accept the 
invitation to at least hear the stories and to listen.

Mr O'Byrne - I heard the Premier ran down the stairs and didn't come in.

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes, but just before the Premier scuttled past, the 
Treasurer slunk past. Both the Premier and the Treasurer had enough time 
that day to pop in and listen but of course did not have the humility or 
the respect to do so.

This is testimony that was given at the AEU forum by Ben Wright, who works 
at TasTAFE and teaches carpentry in the construction and allied trades 
team. He has been at TAFE for over 10 years and this is what he has 
written:

TasTAFE teachers delivering training on campus and on the job are under-
resourced and work many hours of unpaid overtime, which is leading to high 
levels of stress. One example I can give you is of what happened recently 
to our teachers from the plastering department. For the past 12 months 
these teachers have been vocal at staff meetings that with the industry 
about to boom they would require a sessional staff member to help with the 
workload. Ongoing assurances were made from his educational manager that 
at the end of 2018 there would be room in the budget for a sessional 
teacher.

I pause to point out that plastering is a skill set that we are short of 
here, so why is the Government not supporting TasTAFE to train Tasmanian 
plasterers? That is not what is happening; in fact it is the reverse. I 
continue with Ben Wright's letter:

During a recent monthly staff meeting it was raised again by one of the 
plastering teachers that the plastering team was struggling to complete 
all their work and stress levels were through the roof. The EM (
educational manager) was asked when Tas TAFE would be advertising for 
another teacher. The educational manager replied that there was no money 
in the budget and further added that, 'If he didn't like then he should go 
back to the industry'. With the lack of respect shown he was blown away.

On the Monday of Show Week, this is what happened. A teacher with 12 
years' experience, who for the past seven years has co-trained the winners 
of the national plastering competition, as well as the gold medal winner 
of the 2018 Apprentice Skills Challenge held in Perth, put in his 
resignation to HR as he could take no more if no extra help was to be 
provided as the statewide workload was unmanageable. The sixth of 
November was this teacher's last day, and we held a morning tea as a send-
off. As soon as he began to speak he broke down in tears, apologising for 
leaving his carpentry teacher hanging, but felt it was his only option 
left. It was a very sad time. The remaining teacher left has informed 
his education manager that they will not find another plastering teacher 
to fill Andrew's position and that next year he will be forced to also 
resign and go back to industry.

Under the Liberals at the federal and state level we have seen a continual 
erosion of public vocational training and a continual undermining and 
underfunding of TasTAFE that has real-world consequences for the society 
we live in but also for the economy. We have a government that is 
bleeding TasTAFE, pays it lip service, continues to support the tsunami of 
money that is coming into the private sector and so many dodgy operators 
in that sector whilst running down TasTAFE. It is a philosophical 
antagonism towards public good, public services and public ownership of 
public assets.

I will close now because I believe the Treasurer, Mr Gutwein, would like 
to get up and do some more union-bashing and make some more excuses for 
not having enough respect for the state's public sector workers. I cannot 
say I am looking forward to hearing it but like everybody here and 
watching today, we will endure it.