Jenny Leong speaks in Parliament on Public Sector Wages

Jenny Leong speaks in Parliament on Public Sector Wages, on 27 June 2023: 

Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) (17:18): On behalf of the Greens, I thank the member for Mount Druitt for moving this motion. I always welcome the opportunity to talk about giving workers in New South Wales a pay rise. I hope we see the Minns Labor Government commit not only to negotiating with the unions but also to scrapping the wages cap. The right to get fair pay for fair work has been a problem in New South Wales for a long time. I recognise that our public sector workers—our nurses, midwives, health workers, paramedics, teachers, transport and frontline staff—have all worked tirelessly year after year to keep us safe during a crisis. Now we need to see them remunerated properly. The Greens absolutely support an end to the public sector wages cap. The cap has meant that, as the cost of living rose, as inflation went up and as billionaires and big corporations reaped record profits, public sector wages and conditions went backwards.

We need to remember the history of the wages cap. It was put in place by a former Labor Government. The commitment to scrapping it now should also indicate a commitment to moving on from what was a neoliberal agenda under the last Labor Government that saw a concerning move towards privatisation and a sell-off of public assets. There was a failure to listen to the needs of workers and a failure to protect and support our public sector. I hope the motion and the actions of the incoming Minns Government indicate its willingness to put aside those dark days of the past and move to give workers real wage increases. The Greens absolutely agree that we need to scrap the public sector wages cap to ensure that our teachers, nurses, midwives, paramedics, transport and public sector workers have a fair wage.

But let us be clear: Just scrapping the wages cap is not enough. Public sector workers need a real wage increase to match the rising cost of living. We heard from the former Treasurer earlier. Members now sitting on Opposition benches want to have both sides in the debate, as the member for Mount Druitt pointed out. On the one hand they are saying, "This is scandal! Look how much it is going to cost!" We saw how much money they spent on their corporate mates when they were in government. On the other hand they are saying, "Come on! Where's the action? Why haven't you done more?" The hypocrisy of members of the former Liberal-Nationals Government is beyond belief. It will continue to go on; I feel certain. I am running a bit of a competition as I watch from the crossbench to see how long the Labor Government will blame everything on the former Liberal‑Nationals Government and how long are the Liberals and The Nationals will play both sides of the coin.

Dr Joe McGirr: Two years.

Ms JENNY LEONG: Two years? I reckon longer. On the one hand, Opposition members are on the side of the workers, and they want to see some action and change. On the other hand, they are freaking out about how much it will cost. The Greens want to see the public sector wages cap abolished and the delivery of real wage increases for public sector workers. We know that we can pay for it. We can pay for it by making the big polluters pay. We can pay for it by making sure that those who are making huge amounts of money off the property industry pay. We can do it by making sure that in this budget workers are given priority over and above giving tax concessions and benefits to the big end of town.

The Greens stand firm in our support of the public sector workers who have taken to the streets just outside this Chamber and taken strike action to demand better pay and conditions. We support mandated staff-to-patient ratios in hospitals. We know that mums matter and babies count. We back the call for 24/7 patient transport vehicles to keep ambulances free for emergencies. We recognise there is a need to fix the chronic staff shortages in schools and back the calls for urgent intervention to alleviate the unreasonable workloads teachers are facing. We back the demands for genuine investment to address the longstanding safety issues burdening our public transport system and to bring the inner west buses and the entire bus network back into public hands. While we are talking about renationalising things, let us bring back Public Works and scrap the public housing maintenance contracts. We are committed to ending the wages cap. We are committed to seeing this reform happen so that we can secure better wages and conditions for the people of New South Wales.

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