Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Andrews changes rules to cap public sector pay

Public sector unions should unite to oppose the pay cap!
Reading Time: 3 minutes

The Andrews Labor government in Victoria won the state election last November amidst a great deal of fanfare.

Sometimes described as the most progressive premier in Australia, many people had high hopes that Dan Andrews would commit to policies that prioritised the interests of working class people. Those hopes are beginning to be dashed.

For some years the government has had the benefit of a strong financial position. They have used spare cash brought in thanks to the housing boom on new public infrastructure. They have also given handouts and tax concessions to big business.

With lots of construction work happening Andrews has been able to present himself as someone who is building the things we need after years of neglect. One of his main slogans is “delivering for all Victorians”. But unfortunately, it seems that doesn’t include public sector workers.

In the lead up to the state budget in May, the government released its public sector wages policy announcing a self-imposed 2% cap on public sector wage increases. Projections are that Victoria’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) will rise above 2% this year meaning that workers are expected to suffer a pay cut in real terms.

Feeling the pinch

People are already feeling the pinch with cost of living pressures. Workers need pay rises above CPI in order to overcome the lack of real wage increases in recent years.

The Australian Services Union (ASU), who represent some public sector workers, have rightly pointed out the hypocrisy. Only a few months ago Dan Andrews marched at the head of the ‘Change the Rules’ rally. That campaign demanded that ‘Australia needs a pay rise’.

Andrews has the power to ensure thousands of public sector workers get just that but instead he has ‘changed the rules’ to dud workers out of any pay rise at all! The ASU have described the decision as “the most regressive, anti-worker wages policy in decades”.

The governments justification for all this is the need to adhere to “responsible fiscal settings”. They say that this pay cap is necessary due to a slowing economy. It’s true that there is reduced revenue because of lower house prices and slower property sales, but the budget is still in surplus by $1 billion.

The May budget outlines plans to introduce a $1.8 billion ‘efficiency divided’ in the public sector. This is a plan for cuts and Dan Andrews is asking public sector workers to pay the price.

Budgets are always a question of political priorities. While the government has introduced some very minor tax increases on things like luxury cars and gold, why don’t they significantly increase taxes on big business to cover the entire shortfall? Why not eliminate handouts to corporations to save money?

Any government that was genuinely ‘progressive’ would seek to make those who profit carry the burden. What else does ‘progressive’ mean if not a push to improve the living standards of ordinary people?

The truth is that Labor – regardless of the leader – is not progressive. They long ago gave up on representing working people. Today they are a party backed by big business and when they get into power, they govern for them.

The trade union movement needs to oppose all attempts to impose pay caps on public sector workers. With more than 20 agreements due to expire this year, the public sector unions should come together to discuss what pay rises their members need to ensure they are getting ahead of cost of living pressures.

A joint log of claims should be drawn up and presented the government. All public sector workplaces should fight together for an agreed pay rise, with no reduction to working conditions. The unions should commit to strike together if necessary, and to call on the private sector unions to support them.

This development casts another shadow on the union leaders’ policy of campaigning for Labor governments. What is the point of Labor being in power if they do nothing to advance the interests of workers?

Its clear that the union leaders didn’t even bother to get a commitment from Andrews about public sector pay before committing millions of dollars and thousands of hours to get him elected. It was a very serious error that cannot be repeated.

Rather than wasting time and money on Labor, the unions should instead focus on industrial campaigns. When it comes to politics, our efforts would be better spent on building a new genuinely left-wing party that openly fights for the interests of workers, young people and the environment.

Fighting unions and a political party of our own would put us in the best position to win proper pay rises and advance our living conditions.

By Meredith Jacka


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