Teachers in New South Wales will go ahead with a planned strike on Wednesday despite an 11th-hour plea from the government for the union to delay action until after the June budget.
Teachers will walk off the job for the second time in five months, amid long-running concerns over wages and conditions. It is the latest in a series of strikes in the state’s public service, with train drivers, nurses and paramedics recently taking such industrial action.
While each of the unions have different demands, at the heart of the complaints is the government’s longstanding 2.5% wage cap for public servants.
The government has sought to head off the strike by saying it will review the cap when it delivers the state budget next month, and on Tuesday the education minister, Sarah Mitchell, gave the clearest indication yet that the government was reviewing public sector wages.
With award negotiations for teachers set to be heard in the NSW Industrial Relations Commission this month, Mitchell told reporters she had asked for them to be delayed until after the June budget.
“The premier has made it clear in comments that he’s made that the government is looking at the wages policy as part of those budget considerations, and therefore I would like IRC determinations to be made after the budget,” she said.
“I have relayed that to the Teachers Federation this morning, in good faith, and asked them to consider their industrial action proposed for tomorrow.
“So the onus really now is on union bosses to make decisions about what they want to do.”
The premier, Dominic Perrottet, said while he appreciated teacher concerns he would not be “threatened by union bosses”.
“What I have said is that we are working through all of the industrial issues across the NSW public service and doing it in a holistic way,” Perrottet said.
But the head of the NSW Teachers Federation, Angelo Gavrielatos, insisted the strike would go ahead and said the union had been attempting to negotiate on wages since early last year.
“We have been very patient,” he said, adding that the federation wrote to the government as recently as February seeking negotiations on pay.
Gavrielatos said the government had given “no guarantee” of a wage rise for teachers.
“Last week we got a vague announcement by the premier that they will look at salaries in the context of the budget,” he said.
The government is under increasing pressure to scrap the wage cap, amid increasing pressures on cost of living including rising inflation and the Reserve Bank of Australia decision to raise interest rates on Tuesday.
After the RBA announced its decision, the head of Unions NSW, Mark Morey, urged Perrottet to “remove the handbrake on wages”.
“Today life just got significantly harder for nurses, paramedics, firefighters, teachers and all manner of public sector workers. The banks are about to take a big bite out of their take-home pay and until the wage cap is lifted there’ll be little relief in the form of higher wages,” Morey said.
“As the nation’s largest employer, the NSW government’s miserable stinginess is also holding back workers in the private sector from getting a pay rise that keeps pace with the cost of living.
“The wage cap must go now. The longer it stays in place the higher the risk of NSW losing key workers to other states where pay rises are easier to gain and the cost of housing is lower.”