THERE were toots and honks of support outside the John Hunter Hospital campus on Tuesday as off-duty nurses and midwives braved the cold to protest the NSW Government's proposed 12-month public sector wage freeze.
And just hours later, the policy to stop the scheduled 2.5 per cent pay rise of 400,000 public sector workers was rejected in the Upper House.
But the battle is not over.
NSW Treasurer, Dominic Perrottet, said the government would now take the matter to the Industrial Relations Commission.
Across the state on Tuesday, members of the NSW Nurses and Midwives' Association (NSWNMA) gathered on the roadsides of more than 60 health sites to "peacefully oppose" the plans.
In the Hunter, rallies were also held at the Mater Mental Health Centre, Belmont, Maitland and Muswellbrook hospitals.
"We have kept our society going, holding everyone up when they needed us," mental health nurse Michelle Birkett, a branch official for the NSWNMA at the Calvary Mater, said. "We have come to work regardless, even when we were feeling anxious, when we were scared, when we were frightened.
"We didn't know what we were dealing with, but we still went to work and turned up for the community - through thick and thin.
"We have supported the community through this time. It is important that the community supports us now."
Ms Birkett said a lot of nurses were now the sole income earners in their households, following mass job losses throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I know the government is hurting, I know it has been a tough few months - but we have been there," she said.
"We are not being greedy.
"The fat cats still got their pay rise - and they haven't been here. We have had to hold patient's hands while they are having an anxiety attack because they are not coping. The social isolation has really undone a lot of people."
David Pfanner, the president of the John Hunter Children's Hospital branch of the NSWNMA, said nurses - and all hospital workers - had done a "great job" on the frontline of COVID-19.
"So this is a bit of a slap in the face, especially in International Year of the Nurse," he said.
Lynne Williamson, secretary of Hunter ACAT NSWNMA branch, said the $1000 "trade off" offered by the NSW Government would short-change frontline workers.
"Instead of giving the money to the workers and letting it trickle up through the community and local services, Gladys Berejiklian wants it to trickle down into the pockets of corporate profiteers. It needs to go through the community."