A budget eve wage offer from the Queensland government headed off the distraction of planned protests from frontline workers negotiating wage rises, as the government lifted a years-long hiring freeze for some positions.
Queensland’s public sector wages bill is expected to climb to $30 billion in the coming financial year, up $2 billion from 2021-22, and reach $33. 6 billion by 2025-26. With superannuation expenses, the two will account for more than 45 per cent of the government’s expenses in 2022-23.
Several enterprise agreements for staff are due to expire this calendar year, with negotiations between unions representing workers and the government ongoing. Agreements covering nurses and teachers are set to run up on June 30.
After earlier planning to hold protests outside the government’s 1 William Street headquarters on Tuesday ahead of Treasurer Cameron Dick handing down the Palaszczuk government’s eight budget, workers called off the actions to consider a wage offer made to union representatives overnight.
On Tuesday morning, the Queensland Council of Unions said in a statement that groups would consider the offer and discuss with their members and decision-making bodies. Negotiations in NSW for the third time in six months.
Budget papers state that the government’s wages bill is expected to rise broadly in line with population growth over the forward estimates. The number of full-time equivalent roles has jumped 20 per cent since 2014-15 after Newman-era cuts still repeatedly referenced the Palaszczuk government.
A March report on the public sector workforce put the total full-time equivalent figure at almost 240,000, the budget papers said.
Pay rises are assumed to remain consistent with past agreements struck under the policy of 2. 5 per cent annual increases, but with an allowance for future bargaining agreements. The budget states that in the six years to the 2020-21, wages rose 16 per cent alongside inflation of 11 per cent.
With inflation tipped to reach even 7 per cent this year, and unions seeking increases of more than 5 per cent to keep pace, Dick was asked whether his government would match inflation in its agreements.
He said that the recent Fair Work Commission change to the minimum wage of 5. 2 per cent, slightly higher than the rate of inflation, was a different front to the pay of highly trained doctors, nurses and police.
However, as I’ve said earlier, we don’t want them to go backwards. We want to help them at this challenging time and so that’s why we engage with them in a very open and good faith manner as we negotiate those enterprise agreements, Dick said.
In a statement following the budget announcement, Queensland Council of Unions general secretary Michael Clifford said the unexpected budget surplus this year needed to be channelled into a wages policy which would attract essential workers and keep up with the rising cost of living.
The budget also revealed a now on hiring non-frontline workers, amid announced by Dick in 2020, has been lifted.
Through specific measures and agency savings efforts, this target has been fully met and adjustments to agency appropriation made, it said.
The state’s net debt is projected to be $19. 8 billion in the 2022-23 financial year, down from the $33 billion predicted for the same period in last year’s budget.
In his speech, Dick said the government would deliver 9475 jobs for frontline staff — including doctors, nurses, paramedics and allied health professionals, across this term.
The budget also outlines a funding boost for the Queensland Human Rights Commission of $5 million over four years and $764,000 a year thereafter — more than double the 2021-22 base funding — to boost capacity amid increased demand, .
The commission is set to gain 14 new full-time equivalent staff members by June 30 next year, an increase from 49 this year, after what was described as a base funding shortfall and complaint backlog.
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