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Community workers ask Government to pay up

The pay gap between public and private sector community service workers in NSW is of increasing concern to the Australian Services Union (ASU), following revelations that public servants are receiving up to 30 per cent more for the same job reports Laura Bannister in the South Sydney Herald in October 2009.

Last month, over 1,500 community service workers marched through Sydney’s CBD to NSW Parliament House, protesting the fact that many are underpaid by as much as $20,000 per year. Representatives were present from locales across the State, including Newcastle, Wollongong and Goulburn. 

According to Sonja Freeman, Union Organiser at the ASU, the community sector is significantly underfunded, with the August rally serving as an explicit indicator that ASU workers are really feeling the pinch. 

“The global financial crisis has meant a greater strain on resources and services our workers provide, but no added financial incentives for workers ... It is really hard for [private sector employees] to work alongside public sector workers who are earning so much more,” she said.

Ms Freeman remains positive that both the State and Federal governments will back the ASU’s launch of an equal pay case, which will strive to ensure massive pay increases for workers across the sector.

“Governments have chosen to outsource [many community services] for a number of reasons, some good, some bad. A good reason includes having the service delivery closer to the community, a bad reason is to reduce costs,” she said. “Yet the economic crisis has led to increased usage for many of the [private] sectors’ programs and [these] workers deserve decent wages and conditions.”

The Queensland Government made the decision to close the pay gap between public and private sector community service workers last July.

In a release published on the ASU website last month, Union Secretary Sally McManus described the precarious financial situation that unequal pay rates have put NSW private business in. "Employers can't keep staff, people can't stay [at organisations] because people can't pay their rent," she said. Ms McManus insisted that well-qualified workers must be paid well in order to increase general productivity.

Jhan Leach of South Sydney Community Aid, commented: “The recent increases to the SACS award in Queensland of 18 per cent truly reflects the financial disadvantage that we working in the community welfare sector in NSW have been suffering for the past 20 years. While the recent historic decision by the Queensland Industrial Commission reflects fairness and equity, the current lack of parity of wages in NSW is a disgrace and needs to be redressed as a matter of urgency by the NSW State Government.”

Community services workers provide services addressing homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, disabilities, rape crisis and community legalities.

Photo: Protesters on their way to Parliament House