Unions say the NSW government’s ‘wage war’ has intensified, with plans to dramatically increase fines for illegal industrial action in a bid to halt a wave of public sector strikes .
Nurses and teachers say they will leave work next Tuesday and Thursday respectively, in response to the government’s budget this week.
They are unhappy with the 3% pay rise in the public sector, saying it is a cut in real wages and does not solve crippling workloads and staff shortages.
NSW Unions Secretary Mark Morey said the government’s plan to impose fines of up to $55,000 for the first day of industrial action and $27,500 for each day thereafter has intensified its “war on wages”.
For any subsequent strikes, unions could be hit with a $110,000 fine followed by an additional $55,000 for each day of action.
“I understand the unions will continue to act,” he told Sydney’s 2GB radio on Thursday.
“If you have teachers and nurses on the street, there is something fundamentally wrong with the system.
“They are on the street because they are losing staff, they are underpaid and overworked.”
The government has signaled that it will introduce amendments to the Industrial Relations Act to impose harsher penalties on unions striking in defiance of the Industrial Relations Commission.
Prime Minister Dominic Perrottet said the increased penalties are in line with all other Australian jurisdictions.
“My message to union bosses is to work with the NSW government on wages,” he told reporters on Thursday.
“These fines (announced) today should act as a deterrent against carrying out illegal strikes.”
Employee Relations Minister Damien Tudehope said the handsome rise would deter unions from disrupting essential services.
“The illegal strikes have had incredibly damaging consequences for students, families and workers across the state,” he said.
Last month’s teachers’ strike closed more than 450 public schools, affecting more than 700,000 students.
“We want to put an end to this kind of disruption and disorder and use the established mechanisms of the Industrial Relations Board to resolve disputes without hurting innocent citizens,” Tudehope said.
Current penalties include a fine of $10,000 for the first day of an illegal strike and $5,000 per day thereafter. If an organization has already been penalized, there is a maximum of $20,000 for the first day and $10,000 per day thereafter.