Our wages system is broken   

Under the NSW Liberal–National government pay cap, nurses and midwives’ wages struggle to keep pace with living costs.

Wage increases for NSW public sector nurses and midwives used to be set by the NSW Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) after a period of negotiations between the government and NSWNMA.

That changed in 2011 when the Coalition government took away the IRC’s powers and restricted pay increases to a maximum 2.5 per cent per annum for government workers.

To achieve a pay increase over the cap requires “trading away” existing award entitlements.

Since then, government employees have struggled to get a decent pay rise.

As NSWNMA General Secretary Brett Holmes said: “Our members have increasingly been asked to do more with less. Yet, their increase in productivity has not been rewarded for many years.”

The Coalition’s wage cap has only worsened a national problem: profits are surging but wages are stagnant or barely keep pace with living costs.

Power bills, housing, transport, child care and health insurance premiums have risen much faster than wages.

The average Australian household has less disposable income in real terms than when the Liberal–National Coalition took power federally in 2013, The Guardian newspaper reported.

Three decades of changes to Australia’s wage-fixing systems, laws and rules have stopped workers from getting decent wage increases, according to Professor John Buchanan, the chair of business analytics at Sydney University.

As ACTU Secretary Sally McManus said: “Our jobs have been casualised, offshored and outsourced.”

“Forty per cent of the workforce is now in insecure work. A whole generation does not know what it is like to have a paid sick day or a paid holiday.”

Federally, the Labor Opposition has pledged support for new rules aimed at raising wages and recovering lost protections for workers.

It’s not only union members who are worried about persistent low wage growth.

Authorities such as the Reserve Bank and the International Monetary Fund say the whole economy needs bigger pay rises.

Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe described low-wage growth as a “crisis” that hurts many businesses by depressing consumer confidence.

He said he hoped relatively low unemployment would re-energise workers to demand higher wages.

“At some point, one imagines that’s going to lead to workers being prepared to ask for larger wage rises,” he said. “If that were to happen it would be a good thing.”

The International Monetary Fund also described weak wages growth as a risk.

 “Lower wage growth and lower household income growth is one of the risks we are concerned about,” said Thomas Helbling, the head of the IMF’s Asian division.

Where the parties stand on WAGES


  • Labor says it will rescind the current Public Sector Wages Policy and replace it with “a principled and collaborative framework for dealing with claims by workers and unions for improved pay and conditions”.
  • Labor also says it will outlaw “wage theft” and enact a new law that will include criminal penalties, including fines and the possibility of jail for up to 14 years, for individuals found to be “purposefully taking part in systematic, ongoing and widespread failure to pay money and other employment entitlements”.


  • Repealing the “unfair and arbitrary” public sector pay-freeze legislation and returning wage setting powers to the Industrial Relations Commission. 
  • Restoring the Industrial Relations Commission 
as the independent umpire in industrial disputes.
  • Ensuring that successful tenderers for government work or services pay their workers at least the equivalent of public sector workers.
  • Ensuring that the state government and local councils set the standard for best practice wages and conditions across NSW.


Since 2011, when they made their Public Sector Wage Policy law, the Liberal–National government has restricted public sector pay increases to 2.5 per cent per year. Any higher increase is banned unless nurses and midwives agree to “pay” for it by “trading off” existing Award conditions.