Left out in the cold

Nurses have been risking their health on the frontline against COVID-19 at testing clinics like this one at Narrandera last week. Photo: Kim Woods.

Protest action by local nurses and midwives outside Narrandera Hospital yesterday demanded the scrapping of the public sector wage freeze planned by the NSW Government.

The NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association Narrandera branch president Denise Zak is appalled at the government’s proposed plan.

“Nurses always work so hard, but even more so in the current time of COVID 19,” Mrs Zak said. “We can’t believe that our government expects us to be risking our lives every day and to do more for less.

“We are seeking support to help us to continue to care for our community by putting pressure on our Cootamundra MP Steph Cooke and Treasurer Dominic Perrottet, to stop the wage freeze.”

Ms Cooke said she was listening to what constituents were saying and expects the issue to be raised in the NSW Parliament.

“I recognise many in the community have faced hardship during COVID-19, particularly those who have suffered financial loss,” she said. “No one has been untouched by this pandemic. I respect the hard work of all our nurses, midwives and other public sector workers at all times and am truly thankful for their efforts.”

The NSW Government plans to change a regulation to freeze the pay of public sector workers for 12 months when their awards and agreements expire.

Nurses, cleaners, police and firefighters are among the 9757 public servants in the Riverina facing wage cuts.

NSW Labor Leader Jodi McKay said the NSW Government had thanked the heroes who risked their lives and served NSW during the COVID-19 crisis with a pay cut.

“This is a kick in the guts for people like health workers and teachers, bus and train drivers, cleaners, security guards and many more,” he said. “Our public servants have been heroes during the pandemic. They deserve a medal, not a pay cut.”

Denise Zak agreed, saying the nurses state-wide are feeling hurt.

Mrs Zak said the 2.5 per cent pay increase was aligned with the Consumer Price Index.

“We work hard as nurses every day of the week but at the moment during this pandemic it has been very full on for us even in the regional areas with new protocols and practices we have had to embrace in a short time,” she said. “The police, ambulance and teachers are all in the same boat at the moment – all NSW nurses feel unsupported.

“We are valued members of the community and we support our community.

“Some of us say we are born nurses, we don’t just take it up as a job and have this underlying commitment, love and passion for caring and helping people.

“At the minute it feels like nobody cares about or wants to help us.”

The public servants in the Riverina comprise:

  • 2946 Health workers
  • 380 NSW Police Force
  • 1660 Teachers
  • 282 Transport workers
  • 2306 General public servants
  • 9757 Total number of public servants
  • 9.2% of total workers

Labor Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations Adam Searle said at a time when communities were struggling, taking wages from the pockets of 9757 workers in the Riverina was wrong.

“The best way we can stimulate the economy in the Riverina is by supporting people to spend their wages in local businesses, at supermarkets and other shops. That’s how we keep regional economies afloat during this crisis,” he said.

Member for Murray Helen Dalton said her party remained staunchly opposed to a pay freeze for frontline nurses, teachers and police following a zoom meeting with NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet last week.

“Basically, this pay freeze is about robbing regional workers to pay for Sydney vanity projects,” Mrs Dalton said.

“So why not scrap the re-build of ANZ Stadium in Sydney, rather than cutting the real pay of frontline workers in Narrandera?

“The best way to stimulate the regional economy is to put money in the pockets of our frontline workers.

“I’ve spoken to nurses and teachers in Griffith, Leeton, Deniliquin, Wentworth and Moama who are devastated by this proposal. These frontline workers have got us through the worst pandemic in a generation.”

Nurses Union Griffith branch secretary Kristy Wilson was disappointed at the lack of respect being shown to frontline workers.

“We are supporting our communities through this pandemic and now ask the community to support us,” she said. “Nurses have been redeployed to new areas and rapidly reskilled to provide quality care to our patients, and this is how the government repays us.

“We have seen this week the appalling way that the state’s teachers are being treated. Frontline workers cannot accept this, we must all stand together and tell the Berejiklian Government this is not ok”.

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