Penalties for illegal strikes to increase ahead of NSW strikes

By Anna Macdonald

June 23, 2022

Damien Tudehope
NSW minister for finance and employee relations Damien Tudehope. (AAP Image/Paul Braven)

The NSW government is looking to increase fines for what it describes as ‘unlawful industrial activity, as a deterrent to unions seeking to strike. 

By introducing amendments to the Industrial Relations Act, the government is looking to increase the maximum penalty for striking to $55,000 for the first day, then a further $27,500 for each day the strike continues. If a second offence occurs after the initial penalty is imposed, a $110,000 maximum penalty would be handed down, followed by an additional $55,000 for each day the contravention continues.

The government has specified it hopes the amendment sends a message to a planned teachers’ strike next Thursday.

NSW minister for finance and employee relations Damien Tudehope said the strikes over the past few months have caused disruption to essential services, and other mechanisms were in place to resolve disputes. 

“We want to put a stop to this sort of disruption and disorder and use the established mechanisms of the Industrial Relations Commission to resolve disputes without hurting innocent citizens,” Tudehope said. 

“We have the Industrial Relations Commission and associated legal frameworks in place to deal with industrial disputes in a fair and reasonable manner,” the minister added. 

“This is a well-established system of conciliation and arbitration and yet some unions continue to flagrantly disregard orders of the Industrial Relations Commission at the cost of everyday people.”

Tudehope described both the May 4 teacher’s strike and the June 8 public sector worker’s strike as illegal industrial action.

In response, Public Service Association NSW general secretary Stewart Little has criticised the news, telling The Mandarin the government has mismanaged public services.

“Public sector workers have a deep sense of public duty and they don’t strike lightly. They’ll only take industrial action when a government has mismanaged things to the point of crisis. If Damien Tudehope thinks he can shoot the messenger he is mistaken.

“New South Wales is already one of only a few democracies on earth where workers get fined for exercising the human right to strike. The fact this government thinks it’s now appropriate to tighten the screws on workers speaks volumes,” Little said in a statement. 

The penalties would be available only against industrial organisations or employers, not against individuals.

The amendment comes after a number of sectors are planning to strike next week. 

The NSW Teachers Federation and the Independent Education Union of Australia (IEUA) (NSW/ACT) have planned a 24-hour strike for June 30 by both public and Catholic schools.

When announcing the strike, NSW Teachers Federation president Angelo Gavrielatos said the recently-handed down NSW budget did little to address teachers’ problems. 

“We have a profession in crisis and a government that refuses to act. Our children can’t put their education on hold and wait for the Premier and his government to stop ignoring their needs. They need real action now,” Gavrielatos said.

The NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) has also announced a strike, planned for next Tuesday.

“The sheer lack of transparency is palpable. There are widespread staffing deficits right across the state now and there is no guarantee that the government’s ‘health workforce boost’ will be utilised to plug gaps in the staffing rosters now,” NSWNMA acting general secretary Shaye Candish said. 


An abject lesson in how not to negotiate a vital piece of legislation

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