You are here

Pay Increase for State Service Employees

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Tags: Wages

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.