Anger over NT Budget austerity

Katherine teachers meet with the Chief Executive to discuss proposed cuts to their rental subsidy

The NT Government’s budget repair plan puts it on a collision course with the AEU and other unions, writes Jarvis Ryan

On 16 April the NT Government released a 178-page report detailing a plan to return the NT Budget to surplus over the next decade. This follows a report released in December last year forecasting a massive blowout in the budget deficit and public debt if current government spending levels are not reduced. The report was authored by John Langoulant, a corporate consultant and former Under Treasurer of Western Australia.

Of the 76 recommendations in the report, all but one have been at least partially accepted by the Gunner Government.

The AEU and other unions were provided with a briefing by the Treasurer, Nicole Manison, before the report was released publicly, and the Government has stated it is committed to with working with unions on changes that impact on public sector employees.

None of that changes the fact that numerous recommendations the government has accepted represent an attack on union members’ rights and working conditions. The endorsed actions include:

  • A cap on the total number of public servants, including caps for individual agencies.
  • Restrictions on the hiring of new employees in positions not designated as “frontline” – this includes numerous positions that are notionally corporate but provide vital support to schools, such as counsellors.
  • A further reduction of the NT public sector wages policy (already cut last year from 2.5% to 2%) to just $1000 a year salary increases for all employees, beginning in 2021, when the AEU will next be in bargaining.
  • Eliminating the provision of backpay to employees when bargaining negotiations go beyond the expiry of an agreement.

These are the sorts of austerity measures we would expect from an anti-worker conservative regime, not a Labor government.

The good news in the short-term is that members’ core salary and conditions are protected in binding enterprise agreements until late 2021.

However, we can already envisage a bitter and hostile dispute with the government in the next round of bargaining, with real wage cuts already gazetted as policy and no additional resourcing available to address likely AEU workload claims and other costed improvements.

Worryingly, the Langoulant review also calls for deeper structural reform of the NTPS, recommending “harmonising” conditions and a review of entitlements across the sector. Langoulant questions well-established practices such as offering six weeks of recreation leave, saying this is out of step with the private sector.

The first flashpoint for teachers was the sudden announcement of a $500,000 cut to housing subsidies for 94 Department of Education employees in Katherine.

Members responded quickly and decisively, with 40 AEU members attending a special regional council meeting and condemning the proposed cut.

A final decision on the subsidy was still to be made as this article was published, however the actions of our Katherine members has given the Government pause, and highlighted the sort of action all members will have to be ready for to challenge the austerity agenda of the Gunner Government.

In coming weeks all NTPS unions will be developing a strategy to challenge the proposals in the Langoulant review and formulate a collective response. More than ever, we will need to stand united to protect our hard-won conditions.

This article was published in the Term 2, 2019 edition of the Territory Educator magazine.