Despite privatization and outsourcing over many years now, the South Australian public sector workforce is still over 60,000 people and has the advantage of not being employed under the federal Fair Work Act. The Fair Work Act makes the risks for workers associated with taking industrial action high. The SA Fair Work Act equivalent is not as draconian in its anti-worker provisions and with a Labor Government in office, public sector workers give themselves a reasonable chance of making gains when collective bargaining periods arise.
The latest round of collective bargaining with the SA Government departments has seen the lowest paid 'blue collar'' workers win significant concessions from the Government as their employer.
The Government has been trying to hold the line on wage increases of 1.5% in negotiations across the public sector, whether it be negotiations with higher paid doctors or lower paid cleaners and catering workers in the public health system.
The latter lower paid workers took industrial action in the form of work bans and stoppages at some hospitals, with the threat of sector wide stoppages on their agenda if needed. The workers skilfully used the threat of industrial action coming in to the "vote for me" period before the parliamentary election in March 2018 to move the government wage offer from its miserly 1.5% to nearer 3% per year. These workers also succeeded in winning a no further outsourcing or privatization and for wage parity for workers in the public sector who in previous years had their jobs contracted out to the private corporations like Spotless.
The unions representing these workers are affiliated to the ALP and the ALP state leadership desperately need their support leading up to the next election in March where the ALP attempts to hold the spoils of office for what will be for the ALP a record 5 terms, from 2002 out to 2022.
Having agreed to wage outcomes above their previously stated 1.5% not negotiable "line in the sand" to the blue collar public sector, the Government now has to resolve its collective bargaining wage outcome with the white collar salaried public sector workers who in terms of number run in to the 40,000 plus numbers. The salaried public sector unions are not affiliated to the ALP but they include many workers who may be classed as "swinging voters" when it comes to state elections.
These workers have also taken some industrial action and are in the mood for more if necessary.
So the ALP state government has to weigh up whether it lifts its wage offer to these workers as well or battles it out and risks a major disruption to its pre-March election build up. The fact that the Government is under a lot of pressure on the TAFE front may work in the salaried workers favour.
Change in State government will make a difference
The SA Labor Government has done some good things during its terms of office in South Australia since 2002. Looking back to this period in 50 years’ time, the Labor Government will be remembered for taking important steps to move away from fossil fuels and to increase renewable energy sources of electricity. It will be remembered for opposing the greed of the rich cotton industry corporations in the eastern states regarding allocation of water resources from the Darling Murray River scheme. It will be remembered favorably for the building of the new Royal Adelaide Hospital but perhaps not for surrendering the building and running of it to the private sector through a public private partnership.
If the Government changes to a Liberal Government, many things will remain the same as both parties are parties of capitalism. However, one reason alone to urge voters not to vote Liberal is that they will without a doubt accelerate the neo-liberal policies of outsourcing and privatization of water utilities, health and education to name a few.
This will lead to an accelerated transfer of wealth from workers to the big multinational corporations who will be queuing up to take over what is left of a steadily declining but still significant public sector. This will weaken organised labour as it is a fact that private sector unionism continues to decline and organised labour needs the public sector organised sector as a base from which to re-build in the private sector industries decimated by policies of both major parties over the last 50 years.