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Public Sector Wages

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 9 November 2022

Tags: Wages, Public Service

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, there have been some epic rallies on Parliament Lawns during the history of this place. Today's was right up there. There were, at a minimum, 5000 people I reckon, gathered on the lawns. It was at least as big as the biggest rally I have seen on the lawns, which was in relation to protecting the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, probably about 10 years ago. On the lawns today we had teachers, teacher assistants, child safety officers, firefighters, healthcare workers. It was an extremely passionate crowd.

There was a level of resentment in the crowd, and anger, because it is very clear that many of our public sector workers feel undervalued, disrespected. There is a genuine and deep concern about their working conditions. We can all agree on this: our public sector workers work in those spaces because they are dedicated and committed.

One of the most confronting speeches today was from young Katrina, who is a child safety officer, who talked about the literal terror of child safety workers who - because there are not enough staff there for each child to have a case manager - go to bed at night not able to sleep because they know there is a high potential that children are in danger because they are under resourced.

It was a very passionate rally. It certainly felt to me like it was just the beginning. Tim Jacobson from the HACSU said towards the end of his speech: 'This is not the last shot in our locker. We are firing a shot across the Government's bow'.

Mr Speaker, I think we are heading into a period of rolling industrial action. That is the feeling I got from the gathered crowd today, represented by the five unions, that are working together in making sure Tasmanian public sector workers have the wages and conditions that they deserve.

The real risk here for us, as an island state, is that we will not be able to keep our people. That people will be lured to better-paid jobs, with better conditions, interstate. That is happening right across the public sector.

We also had real angst expressed about the inability of many public sector workers to afford to live - particularly, for example, teacher assistants, whose work can span from cleaning up vomit and wiping children's bums, to counselling kids who are having troubles, to teaching children when the teacher is away. These are public sector workers who, every time there is a scheduled holiday, are let go until school resumes. They are living on about $677 per fortnight. I do not know how you would do that. I do not know how you would do that with children. I cannot imagine how you would do that with the cost of living where it is today.

It was a stunning rally and the Greens 100 per cent support the stop work action of public sector workers today. We always have - we always will - support industrial action by unions.

Mr Speaker, we have a proposed amendment to Labor's motion. It is impossible to disagree with really anything in this motion, but we are disappointed in the punchline, because it does not say anything. Of course public sector workers should be treated with the respect they deserve in wage negotiations. Of course they need to be. However, after all this strong language in the top part of the motion, and a series of unarguable facts, we think that this motion can be strengthened so that there is real substance here.

I move that -

The motion be amended by omitting in clause 4:

'treat them with the respect they deserve in wage negotiations'.

And substitute instead:

'pay them wages that, at a minimum, keep up with increases to the cost of living'.

We do not think Labor would be able to argue with that. We think they should put their money where their mouth is.

Mr Speaker, with every government, it is all about your priorities. It is a bit like yesterday when the word 'stadium' was mentioned in the apology. People gathered on the lawns today understood -

Mr Jaensch - Made it a political speech, which was unfortunate, I thought.

Ms O'CONNOR - Sorry, what was that you said, Mr Jaensch?

Mr Jaensch - I thought you politicised your contribution yesterday.

Ms O'CONNOR - Did you? That is interesting. Many, many people came up to me afterwards to thank me for my honesty and to say that my speech really resonated with them. I am sorry that you felt truth-telling got a bit political for you, but I am not here to please you, Mr Jaensch.

Mr Jaensch - I did not think that is what the event was for. Oh well. You succeeded.

Ms O'CONNOR - I was standing up representing the Greens, and sincerely, unreservedly, apologising. I had the guts to apologise for anything the Greens may or may not have done to protect children and young people. I did not hear any of that from any of the other speakers yesterday - but I digress.

On the lawns today, when the stadium was raised, again there is this fury about it, because it is about priorities. If the Government can pour $400 million into another stadium for Tasmania, but is putting up the hand to public sector workers, it tells you a lot about their priorities. A government that brought mining royalties collected in Tasmania up to the national average could afford to pay its public sector workers properly. I will remind the House again that Tasmania has among the lowest mining and royalty fees and charges in the country, and we are being ripped off. The people of Tasmania are being ripped off.

So, when governments say, 'We cannot afford to meet the union's pay claim, we cannot afford to look at your work conditions to make them more sustainable', what they are really saying is, 'We have de-prioritised that part of government but we will give you a stadium, we will give you bread and circuses, and we will keep letting our corporate donors off the hook, so they get bargain basement deals they will not get in any other Australian state or territory'. It is most certainly about choices.

That is the basis, in part, for our proposed amendment, which we hope Labor supports - that government needs to pay public sector workers the wages that, at a minimum, keep up with increases in cost of living. To reiterate what the House knows, there are many steps government can take at the same time to lower the cost of living. It can rein in rents. It can roll out more energy efficiency into low-income households. It can make public transport free. These are investments in the Tasmanian people. They would be tangible cost-of-living measures - and they should be done in tandem with paying our public sector workers the wages they deserve. At a minimum, paying them a wage that keeps up with rising cost of living, because you cannot have a system that allows people to go backwards exponentially. That is what would happen.

We commend the motion to the House. I also commend to the House a document that has definitely stood the test of time. It is the CPSU's 100 Claims for a Better State Service: Tasmanians Still Need a Pay Rise, which tells a story of a union that wants to have good-faith negotiations, have public sector workers paid what they deserve but is also being constructive, creative and lateral about working conditions for public sector employees.

As we heard on the lawns today, it is not about doing less work. It is about being supported to do your job properly. Being supported so you do not burn out. Being supported so you do not go home at night stressed and increasingly close to burn-out.

I commend the CPSU claim from June this year and also our motion to the House. I hope it has Labor's support.