Opposition to IR Changes that Hurt Frontline Workers

I oppose the Industrial Relations Amendment (Public Sector Conditions of Employment) Bill 2011 because it will remove the independence of the Industrial Relations Commission in resolving public sector disputes. The commission will be forced to impose the Government's policies on wages and conditions set out by regulation regardless of whether they are unjust, one-sided or against the public interest. At present the Industrial Relations Commission acts as an independent referee to help resolve disputes over wages and conditions between employers and employees to ensure a fair outcome when making or varying an award. The bill will force it to take the Government's side in these disputes, predetermining its decision in favour of the employer regardless of the circumstances and arguments presented.

Under this bill the process is rigged towards the Government. The Industrial Relations Commission will be reduced to an agent of the Government, with its independence and discretion diminished. The Police Association has legal advice indicating that this is unconstitutional. While the Government has promised that it will not introduce regulations with employee conditions that will affect the current pay negotiations of police, this provides no assurances for the other public sector employees involved in future disputes. Like other members I have received correspondence from a large number of public sector employees who will be impacted by the bill. They are concerned about what policies the Government intends to introduce and what concessions they will be forced to take, including on leave and allowances.

Our public servants work hard for our State, whether they are front line or office workers. I share widespread concern that they deserve an independent umpire to resolve disputes that arise with their employer over wages and conditions. I feel very strongly about this. We are talking about front-line workers who provide the services that run our State. We live in a society in which some people receive obscene salaries yet many of our front-line workers—nurses, fire men and women, emergency service workers, teachers—find it difficult to obtain housing in Sydney and other cities in New South Wales. The duties of front-line workers can be stressful enough without them having to experience further stress in their home life as they struggle to pay the mortgage or rent.

The independent umpire should be able to assess appropriate wage levels on a needs basis. I repeat that this is in the context of a society in which many people who do not contribute to our community at the same level as our front-line workers are on obscene salaries. This bill is a retrograde step and I strongly support the people who work on our front line. The Government should put considerable effort into providing affordable housing for front-line workers. I am not talking about social housing; I am referring to affordable housing for people who provide these services and cannot afford housing in a city like Sydney. I know that the police have been removed from the bill, and I welcome that action. I know that police work 12-hour stints in places like Kings Cross and Surry Hills and many of them, after working those long shifts, travel to the Blue Mountains or Gosford, where they can afford housing. However, our nurses, emergency service workers and teachers remain affected by this bill. Their salaries in comparison to others in our country are small. I am really concerned that the independent arbiter, the Industrial Relations Commission, will not be involved in the process of deciding on a needs basis what our front-line workers should be paid. I urge the Government to rethink the situation.

To read full debate go to NSW Parliament website, HERE.