Shoalhaven public sector employees demand more pay after battling ‘unprecedented’ trials of bushfires, COVID

17 November 2021

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AUSTRALIA – A crowd of Shoalhaven nurses, teachers and emergency personnel have demanded higher pay after battling the “unprecedented” trials that came with bushfires and COVID over the last two years.

Their push for increased pay came after new data revealed the “significant” contribution public sector workers made to the local economy during the Black Summer bushfires and COVID-19 pandemic.

President of the South Coast Labour Council, Tina Smith, said the Shoalhaven would have been much worse off economically if it weren’t for local public service employees funneling money into the region.

“COVID and bushfires 2019-20 were devastating and areas like Nowra and the Shoalhaven would have been far worse off if it would not be the surety of our public sector jobs,” she said at a rally at Shoalhaven Hospital on Tuesday.

“And for the people who turned up to work day in and day out and spent their local dollars in local areas.”

Associate Professor of the University of Wollongong, Martin O’Brien, presented the report at the rally, which measured the impact of public service workers continued employment and their subsequent spending of wages in regional communities.

It found that since the bushfires and COVID, the contribution of Shoalhaven public sector workers wages and subsequent spending in the local economy increased by two per cent.

“The thing we’ve found, particularly with bushfires and COVID, is areas like the South Coast were hit really hard, particularly in regards to tourism,” said Mr O’Brien.

“That contribution of public sector income and spending to the local economy has increased significantly by approximately two per cent…as well as doing important work, emergency services, evacuations over those crisis times.”

The report also found that 18 per cent of employees in the Shoalhaven are public service workers, comparable to Sydney’s 13 per cent.

Mr O’Brien said data showed 10 per cent of Shoalhaven public service workers income flowed into the local economy.

Shoalhaven branch president of the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association, Michael Clarke, said a wage increase would ensure public sector workers are paid appropriately after being on the frontline during times of crisis.

“Pats on the back, pizza for lunch…are okay. But what our members really want is to be paid properly for the work we do,” he said.

He said nurses continued to show up to work despite worrying whether their home would be burnt down during the bushfires, and have continued to show up in debilitating PPE after the Delta-variant outbreak arrived in the Shoalhaven.

“Some had their residential properties damaged, some had their homes completely destroyed,” said Mr Clarke.

“Members were worried they would contract COVID and the possibility that they would pass the virus on to their families.

“Then Delta brought even more changes with a greater focus on infection control when PPE was scarce.

“Our members now spend a large part of their working day wrapped in plastic, wearing tight fitting eye protection.”

A crowd of over 30 public sector workers gathered at the Shoalhaven Hospital on Tuesday to hear data presented by Associate Professor Martin O’Brien

Not the first time

After the attempted freeze, the NSW Government returned the annual 2.5 per cent annual pay rise cap for the state’s public servants over the next four years.

Mr Clarke called the wage rise inadequate and said he wouldn’t rule out NSWNMA members taking further action.

“(Members) were dismayed and angry after the state government forced through an inadequate wage rise at the Industrial Relations Commission…and decided that the time to act had arrived,” he said.

“They felt energized and empowered and they asked me ‘what’s next, what else are we going to do?'”

“I don’t think they will rule out taking further action. The membership of this branch knows the importance of public sector wage rises, particularly in the context of a region impacted by bushfire and COVID.”

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