The NSW Public Service Association (PSA) has imposed bans on public servant overtime in response to the NSW Liberal government’s announcement of a 2.5 per cent pay cap and new laws sidelining the Industrial Relations Commission (IRC).

NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell has taken little time after winning office to enact radical right wing policies that were not part of his election platform in the March state election. The pay cap of 2.5 per cent is similar to the policy of the previous NSW Labor government—which unions and public sector workers bitterly opposed.

However, O’Farrell is introducing legislation that would force the IRC to simply enforce government decisions on wages and conditions. Until now it has had the power to make up its own mind on disputes between unions and the government.

This would allow the government, with a sweep of a pen, to cut any condition it sees fit, from annual leave entitlements to holiday pay, even over-riding conditions contained in awards.
This gives the government a power greater than private employers under the federal FairWork Act—which preserves minimum award standards and the Fairwork panels as places of umpiring.

O’Farrell’s laws are so radical that even the President of the NSW IRC Roger Boland has attacked them.

Boland spoke at the Unions NSW May 26 meeting, telling the crowd he was not consulted about the Government’s decision. The laws also state that any pay rise over the 2.5 per cent base will be only be awarded after productivity trade-offs are proven.

Unions NSW is hoping to lobby the Shooters Party upper house MPs to block the new laws. They may well back the Liberals, but in any case protests and strikes will put maximum pressure on upper house MPs and the government.

Industrial action cannot be limited to individual unions like the PSA. A public sector-wide hour stop work and regional delegates meetings would be a good way to build towards industrial action.

It is welcome that Labor opposition leader John Robertson has spoken out against the laws. But after the previous Labor government’s privatisation push in prisons, power trading and lotteries relying on Labor to change the law will not be enough.

It is up to unions to oppose the public sector pay cap, the OHS law changes and the privatisation of Sydney Ferry management with collective action, and in so doing build a bulwark against Labor’s all too easy retreat in the face of neo-liberal policies.

Police and teachers, with wage deals commencing over the next few months, will be the first unions to face the laws.

It’s time to draw a line in the sand against the Liberals attacks.

By John Morris
President, Canterbury-Bankstown branch, NSW Teachers Federation

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