Why essential workers deserve better

Over the past 12 years, the NSW Liberal-National Government has driven down wages, conditions, skills and training and privatised billions of dollars worth of public assets.

The State Government’s wages policy has flowed beyond government employees and into the private sector, especially in health and education.

The result is a cost-of-living crisis, compounded by an essential services crisis.

Our hospitals are at breaking point – with some patients waiting up to 36 hours to be admitted to emergency because of chronic understaffing.

Essential workers, including IEU members, are exhausted – not just because of COVID but due to a lack of staff. COVID redefined the term “essential worker” to include those who risked their health for the common good, including teachers, transport workers, retail workers and food delivery riders. But in return they got low wages and surging prices. No wonder we are unable to retain workers.

However, in just a few weeks, the people of NSW will have their say on the Liberals’ and Nationals’ 12-year legacy. Do we want more of the same – further privatisation, further under-resourcing of our public services, economy-wide wage suppression – or a new direction?

I recently spoke to a union member whose daughter was an acting deputy principal at a school where she had taught for 10 years. She told me her daughter could not apply for a loan, not because she didn’t earn enough, but because she was still a casual. This is just one of the many examples of a system that is not working for us or our communities.

Last year’s survey of essential workers by Unions NSW found that three out of five essential workers were considering leaving their professions, with one in three looking to move and work interstate, where they could receive higher pay and better conditions.

This is why hundreds of thousands of workers, including IEU members, stood up and took industrial action during 2022, many for the first time. I called it the year of the strike for a reason – because our essential workers have had enough.

This is why Unions NSW is leading the Essential Workers Deserve Better campaign – a campaign to push all political parties to focus on a new direction that will support and retain essential workers in their professions. One simple step is to remove the ongoing casual status many teaches endure.

The campaign brings together workers from all walks of life, all industries, and professions – to remind voters it was essential workers who put their shoulders to the wheel during the pandemic, and it is these very same workers who are being undermined by the NSW Government in the midst of our cost-of-living crisis.

Already our campaign is active in communities right across NSW, having the impactful one-on-one conversations that change votes and minds. We’ll be campaigning right up until the polls close to put pressure on the NSW Government and politicians of all parties to announce and campaign on policies that support our essential workers.

We’re calling for:

  • a real pay rise
  • fix the staffing crisis
  • end privatisation
  • rebuild manufacturing and local services
  • same job, same pay.

These five key areas require urgent government attention and action to ensure our essential services can continue to be the bedrock of our great state and its future.

Mark Morey Secretary
Unions NSW