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Teachers v nurses: State's pay freeze threat now dividing the professions

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The Palaszczuk Government is under pressure to clarify its intentions for wage freezes only weeks before negotiated pay rises are due to take effect.

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The Queensland Teachers’ Union has not received a response to its letter last month asking the Government for clarity. President Kevin Bates said that, given the timing, he expected the agreed 2.5 per cent pay rises to already be working through the system, and have to be abruptly cancelled by order of legislation if the Government goes ahead with the freeze.

The Newman government controversially took the legislative option and the parliament sits again on June 16. The only other option, Bates said, was union members voting to support a freeze, something he believed was very unlikely.

Bates told InQueensland hundreds of members had also written to their local MP to raise the issue, some reminding the politicians that the legally binding enterprise bargaining agreement was hard fought and still a “raw issue” for many.

He said the disruption caused by the pandemic closures should have seen teachers and principals more valued by the Labor government, or afforded the courtesy of open dialogue.

“The community as a whole made it clear that the education system and the people who work in it are absolutely critical,” Bates said.

Education and Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace could not be contacted. Her office has previously said consultation was continuing.

The Together union, which has members across departments, was scheduled to hold stop work meetings on Friday but, unlike the QTU, received a response from government this week. Delegates were considering their options but secretary Alex Scott did not return calls.

Brisbane tabloid newspaper The Courier-Mail today seized on aspects of the agreement relating to health workers, which had in-principle agreement last year but are not yet legally binding.

The Government appears likely to honour aspects of that agreement that were due to come into effect before July 1, backdated if necessary, but apply the freeze to later elements. With some specialised health workers, there was intense competition between the states to retain their services.

Bates said the pay freeze was dividing the professions, because the timing of agreements differed – for example, police and nurses have already been paid their increases – and required the government to draw an arbitrary line in the sand. Not only would that lead to inconsistency in pay and superannuation entitlements in Queensland, but an uneven playing field nationally, he said.

“When you consider the differences that are occurring interstate, with Victoria honouring increases for its public servants and the NSW upper house blocking moves (for a wage freeze) there, that’s really heightened the sense of hurt for our members.”

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk promised the pay freeze after a campaign by The Courier-Mail and later clarified that it would apply from July 1, not April when she agreed it was necessary for the state’s finances. There is also uncertainty over casual or fixed-term public service contracts and whether they will be renewed.

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