Second Reading Speech resumed from September 24 (page 24)
Mrs Armitage (Launceston) - Mr Deputy President, first, I do not have a pecuniary interest any more than any other public servant paid out of the public purse, and we do serve the public. I put on the record that one evening per month I work with the Australian Medical Association, which has briefed us on behalf of public sector doctors. While giving me a greater understanding of the situation as it pertains to medical practitioners this does not influence my vote in any way as, ultimately, I will vote on this and all other bills in what I consider to be in the best interest of the community and the state as a whole.
I am very concerned with the precedent set by this bill and that it overrides the Tasmanian Industrial Commission's powers in setting salaries with no avenue for appeal. Section 11 of the bill overrides a provision of the Industrial Relations Act and destroys independence. Is this the death of the Industrial Commission?
There are many sections of the bill that cause concern, including section 6, which overrides all agreements, awards and individual contracts; and section 7, which effectively means the elected Government unilaterally determines salary increases indefinitely.
It is not bargaining. It is dictating outcomes, and it is inconsistent with the spirit of the act, which encourages workplace bargaining. Why was a sunset clause not part of this bill?
If we remove all the concerning sections I am not sure we are left with a bill at all. I, like others, have received numerous calls, emails, and letters from many public servants but also others in the private sector. The message received from many is that they appreciate the need for a wage freeze but they cannot accept a freeze in increments that will never be regained and will affect some more than others - hardly a fair playing field.
I accept the briefings yesterday and thank the Treasurer for coming back and saying that if amendments come up regarding the increments, they would accept that. That is a move towards good faith. However, over the last few weeks we have been told this bill is an essential plank of the Government's Budget and without it an extra 500 jobs will go.
In the media - of course we all know the media cannot be wrong - we are told that the Treasurer has said that the Legislative Council will be blocking supply if we do not pass this bill. That is hardly good grounds for negotiation.
In my opinion it is unfortunate that the Government chose this tack instead of working with the unions in an endeavour to negotiate a wage pause. I would have thought the first option, given that there are existing legally binding agreements in place, would be to go to the parties to those agreements, namely the unions, to see if you can renegotiate with them to achieve an outcome. To the best of my knowledge this has not happened. We spoke to the unions yesterday at briefings. As they said, their members appreciate the need for a wage freeze. They are happy to sit down and discuss it with the Government. To me, that would have been the first port of call.
I agree with the honourable member for Apsley that this bill really does not belong in the Parliament. It belongs around a negotiating table for discussion with unions on behalf of their members. All workers have different conditions. Some are on a similar stance to the mainland and some are not. This is where negotiation comes in with individual unions. While there may be areas of the public service that compare favourably with the private sector and the mainland states, there are other areas that fall behind. For this reason it would have been desirable to work with individual unions in an attempt to find some balance. Having listened to the briefings from the unions, there would appear to be a real likelihood of a positive outcome which could be achieved without dismantling the whole industrial relations system.
The alternative chosen by the Government was to legislate. This heavy-handed approach impacts more on some than others and, in my mind, is not equal across the board. It also begs the question: will there need to be a catch-up? In the past when there have been wage freezes, there have been significant catch-ups. I do not like to be cynical but could I ask, does the Government think this is not a long-term vision but a short-term gain? Could the catch-up be during the term of another government?
As regards medicos, this bill embeds a two-tier system whereby an industry employs people from outside the state. While I accept that doctors in training are generally on a one-year contract and as such a new contract each year should escape the freeze, some are employed on four-year terms. For those, a registrar or resident who comes from interstate is paid the correct rate, but one staying in the state is penalised. This is not equal. This also applies to permanent staff specialists or those on extended contracts.
It is felt that Tasmanian salaried medical officers are already behind market rates in medicine on a national basis. If we lock in a 2 per cent indexation, they will never catch up. Currently we have significant recruiting difficulties in our hospitals, and it will be even more difficult to recruit in the future because we will start further behind and are committed to falling ever further behind. We were told yesterday it is hard, if not impossible, to recruit to regional areas, especially as it is a small pool of people who are prepared to work in regional and rural areas. An uncompetitive award is difficult but to further embed the uncompetitiveness makes it near impossible.
There is considerable concern currently about attracting specialists to our state and this could become even more dire as many in our public system appreciate that there is a viable private sector out there, and many may not bother working in our public hospitals at all. Where will this leave our waiting lists? Will we rob Peter to pay Paul? Will patient care suffer as ultimately our health system is about good, timely patient services and care? It is all very well to provide extra money for waiting lists and services, but if we do not have people to provide them then that is very difficult.
Where would the savings be when locums on much higher wages need to be employed to staff our hospitals? Between 2012 and 2014 we are told the total cost for locums over the three Tasmanian Health Organisations was $30 675 077. It will be interesting to see what percentage of the overall wage bill for doctors that equated to.
Life and running health is not simple, and this legislation is likely to cause significant damage that may not have been adequately thought about and could take years to repair, not to mention the loss of goodwill when many people work significant unpaid hours. That is across all areas, not just medicine. This pay pause legislation would be seen as a gesture of bad will by the Government whereby the goodwill would be lost for ever and could result in a work-to-rule culture, if people even remained in the public sector. This was mentioned to us in briefings yesterday by Neroli Ellis of the ANF. She told us nurses currently do a lot of unpaid overtime and often go without meal breaks. From memory she said that if a meal break is missed the following four hours should be paid at double time. It is my understanding that nurses are now working to rule as they do not feel the Government appreciates the time and effort they put in by working unpaid overtime.
It was also interesting to note that the ANF, as they do each year, put in a raft of saving measures they estimate could save the Government around $7 million if implemented. The Government has now said it will look at those measures, and I appreciate that. I believe in the past the ANF has been lucky to get a response to the measures they put in every year.
Apart from the huge cost of nurses working double shifts, there is the concern regarding safe working hours. Research has indicated that a nurse working a double shift has the capacity of a person with a blood alcohol reading of 0.07. The question needs to be asked whether the Government considers this optimal for patient care, nurses' health, or the bottom line? Do we consider that freezing nurses' wages and increments will improve the situation when not enough nurses are employed? Will our best and brightest nurses stay in Tasmania, or will they move to the mainland or go into other positions where they considered they are valued? We were told yesterday that many nurses are not working in nursing; they are working in other positions in the state.
People may return to Tasmania to retire and we hear all the time that Tasmania is a retirement state, but we need all ages here in order to be a vibrant state with a good economy, where people want to live and bring up their families. Lifestyle can only compensate so far, as mentioned earlier when the member for Apsley was speaking. I have three sons who decided that while they were young they wanted to make a good wage to set themselves up.
Ms Rattray (Apsley) - They probably wanted to have a look around as well.
Mrs Armitage - They went to Western Australia, so they have not looked too far apart from the mines. They fly overseas from time to time, which is fairly easy to do from Western Australia. They fly regularly to Singapore, Thailand and other areas on their breaks. Because of the wages they make they can have a lifestyle they enjoy. When they first moved to Western Australia they said, 'Mum, we'll be back', but two have bought homes there; one is in a permanent relationship with a Western Australian resident, born and bred there; and the third is considering buying a home and selling his home in Tasmania. Will they be back? Probably not. The lifestyle they have discovered in Western Australia, plus the salaries, is too attractive. They now say, 'Mum, why don't you come and live here?'
Ms Rattray - Those minerals over there will run out one day, by the way.
Mrs Armitage - They do not intend to work there for ever. They tell me you work there for 10 years, make your money and move on.
Lifestyle in Tasmania can only compensate so far. We need to have other aspects that will draw people to us. We need good schools and a vibrant economy and we need all ages here. Teachers, firemen, police - everyone who works for the public service, whether they be a cleaner in a hospital or a surgeon - must be valued and considered, and they need to feel valued. They need to feel they are worthwhile and what they do every day is not just taken for granted but is appreciated. That is so important to people's wellbeing. They all have commitments - food to buy, payments to meet - and many have already cut their cloth to suit, with little to spare. We all know how difficult it is, particularly for families, as costs continue to rise.
I also appreciate that individuals suffer as well. You do not have to have a family to find it hard to make ends meet. Sometimes there are things we do not even think about. Recently I have been approached to support some young people who were selected to represent our state in sport. One opportunity came at a cost to the young person's family of around $7 000. What family wants their child to miss out and not go when they are selected to whichever country it might be? Imagine if you had another child, maybe two children selected; sometimes you have brothers selected.
Ms Rattray - What if you had four?
Mrs Armitage - You might not get four selected in one year, but I know of some families that have two or maybe another child the following year. I use this as an example that there are a lot of costs for families that, on the surface, we might not realise. Every individual should be taken on merit. That is why I believe that, for the unions to negotiate, they can look at their own employees and negotiate with the Government.
The incremental freeze on top of the wage freeze is especially poorly thought out. It means that new employees - arriving, for example, from the mainland - will be paid more than longer serving Tasmanians who have shown loyalty, even when they are both at the same level, because the Tasmanian will get the pay level freeze but the new employee will not. Tasmanians then remain a level behind for all future years. It is not a very good way to reward loyalty.
Further, I understand that GBEs are not affected at all as they are subject to the Fair Work legislation. Therefore it cannot be said that the wage pause, as framed, is an even, fair sharing of the burden.
In closing, I do not believe that rejecting this bill is blocking supply, or that the Legislative Council will be responsible for the sacking of 500 employees if this bill is not passed. The Government is responsible for developing policy. This House is a House of Review. If the Government cannot convince a majority of members of this House about the benefit of their bill, then perhaps their bill is not good legislation.
On the face of it this appears to be a simple solution to a budget problem, but can we make a silk purse out of a sow's ear? To me there appears to be time for negotiation with the unions. I would like to see the Government endeavour to negotiate with the unions in good faith. At least come back to us, if they need to bring the bill back, and say they have endeavoured to work with the unions. Perhaps it will work, perhaps not, but I thought they would have tried. I do not see this as boding well for future union negotiations when they bring legislation, in a heavy-handed manner, straight to the Legislative Council.
Ms Rattray - Do you think four weeks is a reasonable time frame to negotiate one outcome?
Mrs Armitage - I accept there would be a number of unions they need to negotiate with. It would be a difficult task, even in four weeks, but I would like to see them attempt it. I will not say that I will reject this bill. I am considering supporting it through to Committee to allow those members with amendments to have them heard and tested. I will listen to other members before making a determination.