Pay freeze: speak up and be heard
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 123 No 4, 5 June 2020, page no. 11
Unfortunately, it seems that the Queensland Government has identified freezing or delaying our negotiated EB9 pay rise as an easy fix for the economic situation the state faces in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
QTU members in schools and TAFEs across the state have done an outstanding job reshaping educational delivery in a short timeframe, while also ensuring that other essential workers could continue to serve and protect the community by allowing their children to attend school. When a pay freeze first appeared in the public domain, many people thought it was simply media speculation and yet another attack on hardworking public servants. It now appears the state government is indeed set on following this path.
There are three problems with the way the government has managed this issue. The first is the way it was announced. Media reports in early May finally confirmed the state government’s plans to freeze the pay of public servants, including teachers, school leaders and TAFE educators. In an ABC news report on 7 May, the Premier stated:
“I know a lot of people out there who are unhappy about the pay freeze, but I am committed to the 12-month pay freeze.” (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-05-07/unions-vow-to-fight-public-sector-pay-freeze-amid-coronavirus/12224454?utm_source=abc_news&utm_medium=content_shared&utm_content=link&utm_campaign=abc_news)
Policy by press conference is not a respectful way to inform a workforce about significant changes like a proposal to freeze wages. It reminded me of when the Newman government changed the definition of consultation to simply informing stakeholders of decisions already made, rather than offering them a chance to have any input.
The second problem is that freezing or deferring teacher or school leader salary increases will require either an agreed change to the current certified agreement or legislation to override the existing legally binding agreement. At the time of writing, there was no government offer of negotiation or any proposal to change the agreement, which would have to be endorsed or rejected in a ballot of QTU members. So that leaves the legislative path. For the government to legislate a pay freeze or pay deferral by giving itself the power to arbitrarily make amendments to agreements, without the consent of the parties to those agreements, undermines 26 years of public sector enterprise bargaining and could lead to a future government choosing to change workers’ salaries or working conditions at any time. This would undermine the confidence anyone could hold in the status of agreements or the negotiations that produce them.
The final problem is that it is not sound economic policy. The roughly $100 million the government would save by freezing or deferring our negotiated pay rises may assist in the short term, by adjusting the bottom line of the yet to be determined State Budget or by allowing spending in another area. The problem is that it will slow the economic recovery of the state and in fact could lead to teachers, school leaders and other public servants reducing their spending at a time when the economy needs growth.
TAFE members to take a double hit
Many of you will recall that, just before the 2015 state election, our TAFE members took industrial action over a pay freeze and other cuts imposed by the Newman LNP state government. If this latest proposal proceeds on 1 July, it will be the second significant loss of income suffered by TAFE members. These members will play a critical role in providing essential training and skills as the economy adjusts post COVID-19. It is simply not fair.
NSW pay freeze
The New South Wales government’s attempt to pass pay freeze legislation in its Parliament was blocked by opposition and cross bench members of their upper house on 3 June. With our unicameral Parliament, we do not have that luxury in Queensland. The Victorian Government has now confirmed that there will be no pay freeze in that state. So the Palaszczuk government in Queensland is now the only Labor government or opposition across the eastern seaboard to support a pay freeze for public servants.
From the last week of May and into June, QTU members across the state have begun to mobilise, contacting their Members of Parliament to tell them the impact that a pay freeze or deferral will have for them and their families. This is in the lead up to the Queensland Parliament sitting week commencing on 16 June, which would be when the government would have to consider putting legislation to the house.