Public sector wages changes a recipe for unrest

- Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Recent changes to NSW public sector wages will lead to greater employee unrest and dissatisfaction.

The contentious changes, passed recently by both Houses of Parliament, sparked an angry protest by nearly 12,000 workers in Sydney’s Macquarie Street, earlier this week.

Unfortunately this protest is just the tip of the iceberg.

The Government should brace for more fallout from disgruntled public servants.

In my experience, such sweeping changes lead to increased complaints from staff, higher levels of sick leave, absenteeism and misconduct.

Under the new legislation the NSW Government will have the power to stipulate wages and conditions for public servants.

In effect, the legislation puts a 2.5 per cent annual cap on wages increases, unless productivity savings are delivered. It also requires the Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) to consent to its policy.

The NSW Opposition, Greens and unions have waged an angry campaign against the reforms, which they say will give the government unprecedented power.

But Premier Barry O'Farrell maintains the changes will not lead to any cuts in public sector wages and conditions.

Opposition Leader John Robertson says the changes will send the workplace rights of public servants "back to the dark ages".

Whichever way you look at it, significant changes to employee rights fundamentally change the way employees feel about their employers.

Government employees in particular, many of whom work in the health and care sectors, traditionally have high levels of engagement with their employers and those receiving their services.

Undermining this relationship will damage the commitment felt by staff, reduce motivation to comply with policy and compound work-related stress already present in the overloaded services.

Whilst most people will continue to comply with departmental policies, increased disengagement will have an effect on a minority and reduce their incentive to act in the best interest of the public. The policy is going to increase the incidents of corrupt conduct, misconduct and complaints.

Sadly, no one normally carries a budget for complaints management subsumed as part of a general HR budget. These issues will take up more of the pie and leave less money for “positive” staff improvements by HR departments.

The action is also likely to give rise to an increasing level of resignations in already understaffed areas such as hospitals, family services, disability services and aged care.

There is no doubt workers are very upset about the way these laws have been imposed.

The fallout that follows will be just as upsetting for Government and public sector management.

* Harriet Stacey, is the co-founder and principal of Wise Workplace Investigations.  Harriet specialises in corporate investigations and disciplinary processes. She has been involved in more than 150 investigations since the company’s inception – predominantly in the NSW public sector.


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