NSW Health officials are confident a health transportation strike that includes COVID-19 frontline workers won’t disrupt overseas passengers arriving in Sydney despite drivers walking off the job over a “pathetic” pay rise.
At least 250 drivers – including those responsible for taking overseas arrivals from Sydney Airport to quarantine hotels – have gone on strike for 24 hours after receiving an offer of a 0.3 per cent annual pay rise despite working on the frontlines of COVID during the past year.
Patient transport officers have voted to strike until 6am on Friday after the Health Services Union held a Zoom meeting across the state on Thursday.
The strike risked throwing a spanner in the works in Sydney, with three more international flights scheduled to land on Thursday from Abu Dhabi, Singapore and Doha. That does not include New Zealand, with which the Australia has a quarantine-free bubble.
HSU secretary Gerard Hayes said the pay rise offer was a slap in the face to those who put themselves on the line during the thick of the pandemic.
“We don‘t take the decision lightly and we’re mindful how this affects everybody in health,” he told reporters on Thursday.
“For all that effort and stress (last year), they get a 0.3 per cent pay rise. That’s about $190 before tax.
“If what we’re saying to (these workers), whom the Premier (Gladys Berejiklian) had called ‘COVID heroes’, that you’re (only) worth 40 cups of coffee a year, we think the Premier needs to rethink this. (NSW Treasurer) Dominic Perrottet needs to rethink this.”
Mr Hayes said the strike would affect workers who took patients to and from hospital in non-emergency situations, nursing homes and those who picked “travellers up at the airport and take them to quarantine hotel or hospitals”.
“Any disruption to health today lands squarely at the feet of the Treasurer,” he said.
“For the last year, patient transport officers have ferried COVID-positive patients from the airport to hotel quarantine, exposing themselves to a deadly, unknown pathogen.
“In return, the Treasurer has made a humiliating annual pay offer that wouldn’t even buy a cappuccino each week. This is pathetic.
“The cost of living is rising across NSW with surging property prices and rents and increased inflation. This means the Treasurer’s pay offer is effectively a pay cut. That’s a hell of a way to reward the heroes of the pandemic.
“These workers have already been denied half of their own tax savings. The Treasurer needs to stop seeing his workforce as a line item on a spreadsheet. These are real people trying to pay bills and raise families.”
However, a NSW Health spokesperson said the strike would not affect the transportation of overseas passengers arriving at Sydney airport.