On the surface, the O’Farrell Government’s attacks on the public sector might appear to be an endless series of random moves driven by political ideology.
In reality, the 2.5% wage cap and restricting the powers of the Industrial Relations Commission, the sell off of the power industry, the outsourcing of foster care in Community Services, the upheaval in schools and the recent announcement that workers compensation is to be slashed are just part of a broad strategy.
That is, to ensure that the government keeps its election promises on infrastructure.
They believe the best way to secure the necessary funds is by cutting public sector jobs and entitlements under the guise of ‘saving taxpayer’s money’.
In order to be able to achieve this without hindrance from the union movement, Team O’Farrell are taking measured steps to block or remove our access to a number of traditional defence mechanisms.
The most significant instalment in this assault came on 22 February with the release of the NSW Commission of Audit or Schott Report into public sector management.
Despite containing language like “…the goodwill and talent of the public service’s leaders and its employees…” the thrust of it wasn’t pretty.
But it was never meant to be filled with compliments for a job well done under extremely trying circumstances.
The Government called it a “road map for reform”.
We see it as a toilet-stop-free trip down Route 666.
The following day the Premier wheeled out the big guns with legislation that was a mix of sheer intimidation and clear divide and conquer tactics.
Specifically, the new laws will:
• dramatically increase penalties for industrial action from $10,000 for the first day of a first ‘offence’ to $110,000
• ensure that the Government can more easily terminate ‘excess’ public sector workers, and
• just to make sure that they really poison the wells, give workers a choice of union, open up union coverage to competition and allow for the establishment of a sea of amateur organisations with no industrial expertise at the expense of skilled and experienced unions such as the PSA.
The plan being to splinter the union movement, fragment our ability to take collective action
across the sector and erode our bargaining power.
The ‘excess’ legislation has passed parliament. We’re lobbying vigorously against the other measures.
There’s also talk of another tough budget and moves to apply the 2.5% wage cap to state owned corporations.
But amid all of this on 29 February we were heartened by a calm voice of reason that put the ball back in the Government’s court.
The Sydney Morning Herald’s Heckler column ran a piece by “a NSW public servant” under the heading “Public servants really care”.
They had us from the opening line: “Hey, State Government. It’s time to give us public servants a break.”
What followed was not a return serve at O’Farrell after dishing
up such a torrid year but rather a tone that was thoughtful, measured and right on the money.
An offer of assistance was even put forward.
“We do understand the need to manage public sector costs. And we can help you do it. If you ask us to reduce our budgets we will use our knowledge of our service and organisation to do that in the best way that we can with the least effect on the public service.”
“We are good people,” the article concluded, “and we really care. We too want the best for NSW. Let us help.”
We wonder if anyone in Government took the time to read it.
Tell your local MP that your job, your entitlements and the service you provide aren’t commodities.