The NSW Liberals have ramped up their attacks on public sector workers with a plan to increase fines for striking.
The Perrottet government is facing a wave of strikes from nurses, teachers, rail workers and others.
The government has relied on the bosses’ tribunal, the Industrial Relations Commission (IRC), to rule the strikes “illegal” so it can then go on a media offensive.
However, so far the union leaderships have defied these orders and called members out on strike anyway. This defiance has been spurred by pressure from rank and file members, such as in the nurses’ union where members are fed up with conditions in hospitals.
The Liberals want to increase the fines on unions for going ahead with strikes that defy IRC orders from $10,000 for the first day and $5000 a day after that, up to $55,000 for the first day and $27,500 a day after that.
The Liberals want to scare workers into backing down and silently accepting the cuts to real wages and further erosion of conditions.
But even with the increase, these fines are paltry in comparison to the funds that large unions like the teachers and nurses have accumulated over decades. Just one dollar collected from each member of the teachers’ union would cover a fine from the last strike. And individual members cannot be fined under the NSW industrial laws.
In the federal industrial system, the Fair Work Act allows for much more severe fines on unions, and in extreme cases individual union members can be fined.
In 2017, the construction union was fined $2.4 million over industrial action at Barangaroo. Yet even despite this, the union continues to take unprotected action successfully to win disputes.
Perrottet’s fine increases should not be feared. They are a sign that his government is on the back foot. Further strikes uniting all public sector workers, in defiance of the IRC’s fines, can topple his rotten government.
By Miro Sandev