The State Labor Treasurer and former Secretary of Unions NSW, Michael Costa yesterday handed down a budget that delivers a $444 million surplus this year and will cut $845 million in taxes by 2011. The budget also nominates a public sector wages policy of just 2.5% increase in wages per year. This is clearly unacceptable and given that inflation is projected to exceed 3% over the next year, all members can expect that if we are to get a wage deal that comes in at greater than 2.5% we are going to have to fight for it. To add insult to injury on the very same day that Treasury announced its wages would be less than inflation the media was reporting a 6.7% pay rise for Federal politicians that will now automatically flow on to all state politicians.
The total budget for the NSWFB has for the first time in its history topped a half a billion dollars with a 5.3% increase in total funding this financial year. This money is allocated to increases in new fire engines, additional funding for communications, new technology and an increase in Community Fire Units. Capital works funding on the other hand has been cut by 8.9% meaning no new fire stations throughout the state. This will invariably limit the capacity of the NSWFB to expand into areas of the state that need professional fire service.
The Rural Fire Service however has received an increase of 18.7% in its budget taking it to a total of $226 million for the financial year. The most surprising figure in the budget papers is the $40 million in wages and expenses allocated to what is portrayed as a volunteer agency. The RFS currently has close to 700 people on the payroll – a bureaucracy that is almost double the size of the 360 public servants required to look after the NSWFB. Volunteer firefighters would be perfectly within their rights to ask why this money isn’t flowing down to the people fighting the fires.
The FBEU is one of the first public sector Unions in NSW due to renegotiate its Award after the Iemma Government was returned to power in March this year. This will necessarily mean that the government struggle to contain a breakout in public sector wages will be directed at limiting what we achieve in our wage negotiations. No one should think for a minute that the Union won’t be going hard to win a decent outcome for members, many of whom live and work in the most expensive city in the country. The Union will be taking the ball straight up to the Government when negotiations for our new Award shortly.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that firefighters and other public servants are now being asked to subsidise a budget built on fiscal surpluses used to fund tax cuts and duplication of services throughout the state. With money now pouring into treasury coffers, firefighters shouldn’t have to go without while those in power are awarding themselves enormous wage increases.