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Public Sector Wages

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 28 September 2022

Tags: Public Service, Wages, Workers Rights

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, what a sight outside on the lawns of parliament. Thousands of teachers, educators, school support staff, and members of other unions. For teachers and people who work in schools to take industrial action, which leads to the closure of 195 schools, is a huge step and stop work actions are always a last resort.

I implore the Premier and the Education minister, who is so often 'out to lunch', to understand what is happening here. If you have thousands of people who dedicate their lives to our children's learning walking off the job it means that they have reached the end of their tether. The mood in that crowd this morning was one of frustration and fury; a feeling of being undervalued. We were told teachers are burnt out.

We had educators speak this morning and, overwhelmingly, what we heard is a dedication to learning, a deep frustration at feeling undervalued and, in fact, a guilt. Feeling guilty because they have been pushed to the point of stop-work action. Tasmanian educators are the lowest paid in the country. The teachers' assistants who make it possible for teachers to reach their class and make sure all are getting the education they need, are only paid for 40 weeks a year. During the holidays, they are discarded and the Government and the department of Education know that invariably those teachers' assistants and support staff will come back, through a commitment to those kids. We have educators, teachers' assistants, working in our schools on close to the minimum wage and these are the people in whom we rightly trust to teach our children.

Across the state, we have simmering rage in nearly every sector of the essential service. A deep feeling of being unheard and undervalued. If it was just school staff striking, that would be one thing. We have teachers, nurses, paramedics, firefighters, child safety officers right across the state. In core essential services we have workers who have said enough.

I know there are people in Government who like to learn things the hard way. I am telling the Treasurer, you will learn the hard way that, if you do not sit down and negotiate in genuine good faith over pay and conditions, you will lose this fight. You cannot come up against that strength of commitment from public sector workers and win, whatever your paradigm for winning is, in this situation. We just had the Treasurer tell us that the Opposition and the Greens are presenting a false choice to Government over giving essential services workers fair pay and conditions and forking $400 million or so on a stadium.

We are not stupid. We understand the difference between capital and recurrent funding, but it is a choice this Government is making to spend around $400 million on a stadium we do not need. What that says to the people we rely on every day, who hold the social fabric of this island together, is that this government's priorities are warped. You cannot make an argument that the state needs another stadium while you will not come to the table and negotiate in good faith.

The Australian Education Union has been seeking some sort of resolution for 14 months. The first thing they want is actual good faith, and they are not getting it. We heard this morning of a pay offer over four years: 3 per cent in the first year, 3 per cent the second year, 2.5 per cent the third year and 2.5 per cent the fourth year. That does not even match inflation, which means that what the Government is offering teachers is a pay cut.

It is on this Government that we have simmering industrial chaos. If you want to understand the world of difference in perception, the Education minister was up here this morning blaming teachers, blaming the Australian Education Union, for today's action. Those good people who go into schools and learning facilities every day across this state, underpaid and under-supported in their classrooms, are copping the blame because this Government cannot negotiate in good faith. I have no doubt at all, Mr Speaker, that they will try to tell Tasmanian parents that this is on the teachers and the union that represents them, which would be a terribly bad-faith statement, because surely the Treasurer knows that for teachers and support staff to walk off the job is a huge step. It is not one that is ever taken lightly.

The strength of that crowd this morning, the unity, was inspiring. The Treasurer needs to take some control of this.