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Real Wages

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 9 November 2022

Tags: Wages, Workers Rights

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, I will say to the Treasurer, for the record, that the Reserve Bank of Australia supports wage suppression. They have jacked up interest rates in response to inflation - inflation that is largely being caused by corporate profiteering. I will point the Treasurer to some recent statements from the Reserve Bank where they are very worried about wages. They want to continue to be part of wage suppression in this country. The Reserve Bank is arguably part of the problem.

Thank you to Labor for bringing on this MPI. If we want to have an idea of what Labor's position on public sector wages is, I point members to the notice of motion that will be debated by Labor today, and the punchline. The final line does not say 'pay public sector workers wages that at a minimum keep up with increases in the cost of living'. What it says is, treat public sector workers 'with the respect they deserve in wage negotiations'. We can all agree with that, but it does not say that Labor supports the union's claim. It is important that this is placed on the record.

Mr Speaker, the state is in a period of industrial chaos. We should acknowledge that for unions to take that step of embarking on wide-scale, statewide industrial action means they have been pushed to the brink. It is an enormous step for a union to make on behalf of its members: to ask members - whether they be teachers or child safety workers, firefighters, paramedics or any other State Service worker - to walk off the job.

As we know, our public sector workers are dedicated to doing their jobs in the public interest. We are at this point because there has been a failure in the negotiations. That is what the Greens believe. It is the last resort.

In the Australian Bureau of Statistics' latest release of CPI figures, Hobart had the highest rate of increase in inflation across the year to 30 September 2022. Inflation rose by 8.6 per cent in Hobart, as we heard this morning. is 1.3 per cent above the national average. That is a sample of the pain being felt in the community. We know the rapid increase in the cost of living is affecting all Tasmanians no matter where they live. Why can we not have a consensus in this place on the measures we could take to reduce the cost of living? Reining in rents, making public transport free, and rolling out more energy efficiency: there are things we could be doing collectively as a parliament to significantly put downward pressure on the cost of living with those levers the state and the parliament has at its disposal.

We also know that nondiscretionary inflation or price rises affecting essential goods and services are rising at a much higher rate than the overall inflation figures. Nationally non discretionary inflation sits at a full 2.9 per cent higher than discretionary inflation and again that is down to corporate profiteering. The biggest increases we have seen have come in housing and food, and these are unavoidable costs. This is survival expenses for the people of Australia. Meanwhile, wage increases remain pathetically low as they have for more than a decade.

In real terms, wages are going backwards and it is happening fast. It is exponentially accelerating. Putting a meal on the table for your family, or having a place to call home, should be non-negotiable in such a wealthy nation as ours but every week more people are being forced into making impossible choices so they can make it to the next pay cheque - and many of these people are public sector workers.

The wage offer made by this Government would not meaningfully address this. Tasmanian public sector workers are already lagging the nation when it comes to pay and they see this Government has its priorities wrong and that would also feed into their frustration. This is a government that wants to pour $400 million or so of state funds, no doubt secured through debt, into another stadium on an island which has plenty. The Premier might be crowing that his current pay offer is slightly above the current offer in other states but it is our understanding that the Queensland government has offered a 4 per cent pay increase as well as improvements in working conditions. The Premier's argument is much more spin than substance. Dr Woodruff and I are not surprised about that.

Under this offer, Tasmanian public sector workers would still take a massive pay cut in real terms and would still lag the nation. Hopefully, in the future, Australia will be in a situation where there are enough teachers, support staff, paramedics, nurses, doctors and child safety workers to staff every state's system. These are the people who hold the fabric of our society together. Today's reality is that we are in direct competition with other states for these critical workers. If we do not treat our public sector workers well and pay them fairly, we will find ourselves moving even further in the wrong direction.

Queensland is now recruiting people from Tasmania. The crisis in health should be of the deepest, gravest concern to us all. This morning in the emergency department of the Royal Hobart Hospital there were 55 people waiting to be seen. We know this is in significant part a consequence of this Government's decision to let rip a dangerous respiratory vascular virus that has long-term consequences. We know that. We know this virus dampens people's immune systems, that it is damaging childrens immune systems and that, in all likelihood, explains why there are so many children in the paediatric wards with RSV.

In our schools, class sizes are growing and the numbers of teachers quitting the profession continues to rise. It could get so much worse. We know COVID-19 has had an impact there too. I have spoken to long-term educators who are leaving because COVID-19 has been let rip in our schools. The same goes for many other areas in our public service, critical areas. We have seen the critical importance of improving child safety services, but how will we safely staff the system if the pay and conditions are not fair?

Time expired.