Unions say the NSW government’s “war on wages” has escalated, with plans to dramatically hike fines for illegal industrial action in a bid to stop a wave of public sector strikes.
Nurses and teachers say they will walk off the job next Tuesday and Thursday respectively, in response to the government’s budget this week.
They are unhappy with the three per cent public sector pay increase, saying it is a cut to real wages and does not address crippling workloads and staff shortages.
Unions NSW secretary Mark Morey says 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 ramped up its “war on wages”.
For any subsequent strikes unions could be hit with a $110,000 penalty followed by an additional $55,000 for each day of action.
“My understanding is that the unions will continue to take action,” he told Sydney radio 2GB on Thursday.
“If you’ve got teachers and nurses on the street there’s something fundamentally wrong with the system.
“They are on the street because they are losing staff, they’re underpaid and overworked.”
The government has flagged it will introduce amendments to the Industrial Relations Act to impose bigger penalties for unions striking in defiance of the Industrial Relations Commission.
Premier Dominic Perrottet said the increased penalties are in line with every other Australian jurisdiction.
“My message to union bosses is, please work with the NSW government when it comes to wages,” he told reporters on Thursday.
“These fines (announced) today should act as a deterrent for not conducting illegal strikes.”
Employee Relations Minister Damien Tudehope said the fine hike would deter unions from disrupting essential services.
“Illegal strike action has had incredibly damaging consequences for students, families and workers across the state,” he said.
Last month’s strike by teachers shut down more than 450 public schools, affecting more than 700,000 students.
“We want to put a stop to this sort of disruption and disorder and use the established mechanisms of the Industrial Relations Commission to resolve disputes without hurting innocent citizens,” Mr Tudehope said.
Current penalties allow for a $10,000 fine for the first day of an illegal strike and $5000 a day after that. If an organisation has previously been penalised, there is a maximum of $20,000 for the first day and $10,000 a day thereafter.