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Australia: More than 130,000 New South Wales nurses and teachers to strike next week

Some 140,000 health workers and educators will take strike action across New South Wales (NSW) next week. This includes more than 50,000 nurses and midwives and 70,000 public school teachers across the state, as well as around 18,000 Catholic systemic school teachers throughout NSW and the Australian Capital Territory.

Striking nurses in Sydney on February 15, 2022 [Credit: WSWS media]

The health workers will stop working on Tuesday, while public and Catholic school teachers will hold a joint strike on Thursday.

The workers are striking against a public sector pay cap, which limits annual wage increases to 3 percent, under conditions where the official inflation rate is 5.1 percent and is tipped to reach 7 percent by the end of the year.

The stoppages are also directed at increasingly intolerable conditions, with both the health and education sectors confronting massive staff shortages and overwork. While these problems are longstanding, workers have been brought to breaking point by the COVID-19 pandemic. Hospitals are completely overwhelmed, while classes are routinely being canceled or combined, with hundreds of students being herded into school halls and libraries due to the lack of staff.

Nurses are calling for minimum shift-by-shift nurse-to-patient ratios, while teachers are seeking a reduction in the unpaid work they are expected to do, which currently sees educators routinely working more than 60 hours per week.

For health workers and public sector teachers, this will be the third strike in recent months, while the Catholic educators’ action follows a one-day stoppage on May 27. Next week’s actions also follow a 24-hour strike by tens of thousands of NSW public sector workers on June 8. In every case, workers have challenged rulings banning the strikes by the NSW Industrial Relations Commission (IRC).

Both the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association (NSWNMA) and NSW Teachers Federation (NSWTF) had deferred further strikes until after Tuesday’s state budget announcement, despite the demands of workers for further action.

The unions have dragged out these disputes for months, limiting industrial action to occasional one-day strikes designed to allow workers to let off steam and prepare them to reluctantly accept a sell-out deal. Throughout, both unions have advanced the dead-end perspective that workers’ issues could be resolved through appeals to the Liberal-National state government.

The bogus character of this was exposed in Tuesday’s budget, which confirmed the government’s refusal to implement nurse-to-patient ratios, address the workload of teachers, or agree to even the meagre pay demands advanced by the unions.

The NSWTF and Independent Education Union (IEU) are calling for pay rises of just 5.1 to 7 percent per annum, far below the real cost of living, and just two hours of additional preparation time per week. The NSWNA has called for an increase of only 4.75 percent a year, already beneath the official rate of inflation.

Striking nurse at Sydney rally on March 31, 2022 (WSWS Media)

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