Unions could be hit with dramatically increased fines if healthcare staff and teachers choose to walk off the job as planned next week after the NSW government announced emergency measures to quash “the year of the strike”.
Minister for Finance and Employee Relations Damien Tudehope announced the NSW government would introduce penalties on industrial strikes of up to $55,000 for the first day of action and $27,500 for each following day.
The proposed fines are more than five times more expensive than the penalties to unions of $10,000 for the first day and $5000 for subsequent days.
The enormous penalties would apply to unions that proceeded with strikes after being handed a dispute order by the Industrial Relations Commission.
Mr Tudehope said the fines would deter unions from taking action that would disrupt essential services.
“Illegal strike action has had incredibly damaging consequences for students, families and workers across the state,” Mr Tudehope said.
“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.”
The announcement comes only days before hundreds of nurses and midwives announced they planned to walk off the job for 24 hours on Tuesday due to a “sheer lack of government support”.
Denny Anderson, a nurse at Westmead Hospital, told Channel 9’s Today show that members of the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association would attend a “mass meeting” next week to determine what to do next.
“We are constantly short-staffed. Our nurses on the wards are working (as) a single nurse to eight up to 10 patients, especially overnight,” he said.
Mr Anderson said nurses were constantly working shifts that are understaffed, sometimes by up to eight nurses.
“Unfortunately, patients are just not getting the care that they’re needing and definitely not the care that we want to be giving to them,” he said.
The nurse said the solution was to implement nurse-to-patient ratios to allow nurses to provide the best care to patients without being overtasked.
The planned industrial action on Tuesday would mark the third strike this year by healthcare staff fed up with the healthcare crisis.
The walk-off comes as the NSW government pledged to add 10,000 additional healthcare staff to the overstretched system with a staggering $4.5bn investment into the workforce over four years.
NSW Labor leader Chris Minns criticised the announcement as a very expensive Band-Aid for a glaring oversight.
“When you don’t invest in frontline services, you end up having to spend way more than you otherwise ordinarily would have,” he said on Tuesday.
In the 2022-23 NSW Budget, NSW Treasurer Matt Kean promised healthcare staff and other public sector employees would receive a 3 per cent wage increase over the next two years.
“This is one of the most generous public sector pay increases in the country,” Mr Kean said.
Healthcare workers will also benefit from a one-off payment of $3000 in acknowledgment of their tireless efforts during the pandemic.
Mr Anderson labelled the bonus “a nice gesture” but said it wasn’t enough to fix the endemic issues.
“It‘s not a solution to anything that we are asking for,” he said.
“It‘s not a solution for the lack of nurses. It’s not a solution that’s going to stop our senior nurses leaving in droves.”
The massive fines for unions would also impact a planned teachers strike next Thursday in which both public and Catholic schools planned to walk off the job in a historic joint action.
Mr Tudehope noted the last strike by the NSW Teachers Federation on May 4 resulted in 450 public schools being shut and impacted 700,000 students’ education.
“In addition this causes enormous inconvenience to families and economic damage from workers having to take the day off to care for their kids,” he said.
Mr Tudehope hopes the introduction of eye-watering fines will deter more industrial action during what has been called “the year of the strike”.
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