REPEATEDLY during the COVID-19 pandemic, political leaders have praised our much-vaunted "frontline" workers - especially the doctors, nurses, ambulance paramedics and other staff who work in and around our public hospitals - as coronavirus "heroes".
But talk is cheap.
Here and abroad, healthcare workers have suffered heavily, accounting for between 10 per cent and 20 per cent of case numbers and contracting the disease even while they have been "suited up" and supposedly protected.
At a time when many of us would want danger money to work inside a public hospital, the NSW government has insisted on a 12-month wages freeze for public servants - which includes those frontline heroes - in order to save $3 billion over four years, promising to put the money toward "shovel ready" infrastructure projects.
Public sector pay rises were already legislatively capped at 2.5 per cent a year before the government said those calling for a pay rise during the pandemic were lucky to have a job.
Wanting to set an example, Premier Gladys Berejiklian decreed that parliamentarians, too, should go without a pay increase, although MPs' salaries - from $169,192 to $407,980 plus electorate allowance of up to $143,670 along with other entitlements - put even the hardest-working ward nurse somewhat in the shade.
When the Coalition was unable to win parliamentary support for its wage freeze, the matter ended up before the NSW Industrial Relations Commission, which accepted the government's arguments but ordered a 0.3 per cent increase to counter any impact from inflation.
The court said a full freeze would result in a "decrease in the real earnings" of those affected, which would not be "fair and reasonable".
The parties return to the commission next Friday.
Members of the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association are holding a series of protests at hospitals around the state, with turnouts at John Hunter Hospital on Wednesday and the Mater Mental Health Care Centre yesterday.
Maybe Ms Berejiklian might like to take up the offer from the Waratah nurses to join them on the 18-hour overtime shifts their union says are par for the course with the present workloads and staff shortages.
Penny-pinching on their wages is not only a slight to their dedication, it's a missed opportunity to provide some real, household-level stimulus.
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