Grim outlook for nurses and midwives extends into retirement

Experienced nurses and midwives are out of pocket around $80,000 each due to the NSW government’s harsh public sector wage caps suppressing their income over the past decade.

A new report into the impact of wage caps, since their introduction in 2012, shows public sector nurses and midwives will suffer a cumulative loss of $120,000 in pay by 2023-24, while their superannuation balances will be a further $12,500 worse off.

Dr Jim Stanford, economist and director of the Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute, acknowledged the outlook was less than appealing and could have been avoided.

“It is clear the NSW government relies upon harsh public sector pay restrictions as a matter of political and fiscal convenience, without negotiation or consideration of normal wage determinants such as rising cost of living, productivity, or wage comparators,” said Dr Stanford.

“The consequences are severe for public sector nurses and midwives, and get worse over time because the sustained pay caps have a cumulating effect. Not only are wage gains in any particular year lower than they would be under normal circumstances, but the base level of pay falls further and further behind where they would be otherwise.”

General Secretary of the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA), Shaye Candish, said the NSW government’s wages policy was bad for nurses and midwives now, and into the future.

“NSW is the second worse paid state in Australia because of this policy, making it near impossible to attract and retain staff in such a tight labour market. It’s clearly a bad policy for nurses and midwives, but the implications for regional communities and the health sector overall are just as dire,” Ms Candish said.

“Thanks to the NSW government’s ongoing wage caps, most nurses and midwives will fall well short of the thresholds considered for a ‘comfortable’ retirement. This is a confronting prospect, especially for women, single retirees, and renters.

“This says a lot about further gendered inequality that we already know exists and highlights how discriminatory wage caps are upon the female-dominated nursing and midwifery workforce.

“According to the report, an experienced female nurse or midwife who is single and renting will fall more than 50 per cent below the comfortable retirement threshold.

“Nurses and midwives across NSW will be unable to retire in dignity, the longer these cruel wage caps remain in place. This is not a responsible policy that instils confidence in building the future nursing and midwifery workforce we desperately need for our state.”

NSWNMA Assistant General Secretary, Michael Whaites, called for the NSW government’s public sector wages policy to be abolished, and a return to the collective bargaining process.

“These decade-old wage caps belong in the shredder. The NSW government has long contributed to falling real wages for public sector workers and further undermined wage growth across the broader labour market, including in the private sector,” said Mr Whaites.

“The government must scrap its wages policy and return to fairer, genuine collective bargaining with public sector workers and their unions, and stop making it harder to attract vital nurses and midwives.

“If governments are serious about closing the gender pay gap, then improving the pay and retirement of nurses and midwives is essential, you can’t do that with this wages policy in place.”

NSWNMA member and Sydney registered nurse, Julia Farley, said the report findings were devastating and would alarm the public sector nurses and midwives she works alongside.

“It’s demoralising to learn after many years dedicated to nursing, we’ve effectively been robbed tens of thousands of dollars under suppressed wages. My colleagues and I are working gruelling shifts, yet my retirement savings are suffering. How is that fair or justified?” said Ms Farley.

“I was angry to read the findings and disappointed when I saw the cumulative dollars that we’ve all lost laid out.

“Knowing we’ve all been going above and beyond, it makes you question just how little the NSW government values our contribution and the skilled work we do around the clock.”

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