West Australia’s public sector workers march on parliament

Photo by Keane Bourke/ ABC

Contributed By Jim Hayes

Thousands of WA health workers, police, teachers, and other public sector workers marched in Perth yesterday, to highlight that they are continuing to be underpaid, despite the burden many of them have faced in the front-line battle against the Covid pandemic.

They are calling for a 5 percent wage rise. The West Australian government has not budged beyond 3 percent so far, and public sector unions are saying this is not enough.

Photo by Keane Bourke/ABC: Thousands rally outside the WA parliament

In a speech on the steps of parliament, Unions WA Secretary Owen Whittle said,

“We can’t pay the bills with thanks or a pat on the back, we deserve a real pay rise. There is money for everything, except for the workers who keep our state running and our community safe.”

Industrial Relations Minister Bill Johnson, who came to put the government’s story, was booed, and heckled by the big crowd. He claimed, ”we are listening,” but said the offer is all the government can afford.

The Minister’s intervention did not go down well because he delivered a line heard so many times before across Australia. Whether in the private or public sector, every call for a wage rise can’t be delivered because it is beyond what can be afforded.

This does not match up very well with the fact that the wages versus profit share have been falling for some years. Add that the West Australian government has been raking in millions in royalties from the mining industry.

To the workers who’d turned up to put their case outside the state parliament, this smelled like they are at the bottom of the list of priorities. They want different priorities. They want a stop to insisting the workers share must be held down for the good of the economy and to prevent inflation.

Photo by Cason Ho/ABC: Nurse Julie-Marie Hay wants the state government to show health workers some ‘respect’

Australia must move away from the false argument that wage rises are bad for the economy, driving away investment and causing inflation.

In the first place, investors chase return on their money. Australia has a high level of productivity, which means, the economy is capital intensive. The wages bill is less than the other costs of operating. They are what affects investment decisions. The West has the added advantage of a mining export industry that is highly profitable and swelling the government’s royalty revenues. They don’t want to hear that the government can’t offer more.

A falling real wage means that wages are not causing inflation. But it does mean that market contraction through falling purchasing power. Increasing the wages share may not fix the economy on its own, but it can help to create demand and better conditions for a turn around.

Aside from the health of the economy, improvement of the reward to workers for their contribution to Australia is a matter of justice. None deserve it more than those who have contributed beyond the call of duty to look after us.

The progress of this wage campaign will be followed by public sector and other workers across Australia. It has implications for everyone.

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