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Anton Nilsson

Unions warn of public sector exodus from NSW. But where would they go?

A quarter of NSW public sector workers have considered moving interstate in search of better wages, a new union survey shows. The survey, from Unions NSW, is part of a campaign aimed at busting the state government’s 3% cap on wage increases for public sector employees. Inflation is predicted to hit 7.75% before the end of the year.

But where would a public servant seeking better opportunities go?

The obvious answer seems to be Queensland where, lately, total hourly rates of pay for public employees have increased the most. The latest ABS data, from the second quarter of this year, show total hourly rates of pay for public sector workers increased by 4%, compared with the corresponding quarter the previous year.

In NSW that increase was just 2.1%. Tasmania with 2.6% and the ACT with 2.8% also beat NSW. Victoria fell behind NSW with an increase of 2%. Western Australia had an increase of 1.1%, the Northern Territory of 1.4%, and South Australia of 1.7%.

University of Queensland Associate Professor in management and business Martin Edwards said data show that people were leaving NSW and Victoria for the Sunshine State. The data he pointed to was not specific to public sector workers, but it “made a lot of sense” that those workers would be among those making the move. 

“There’s actually quite a bit of evidence that there has been a big labour flow into Queensland over the last year or two, and it’s potentially linked to the ease at which people can work from home now,” he said.

The latest ABS figures on interstate migration, from March last year, show Queensland gained the most people, with 7000 newcomers. That’s not far off the total number of people who left NSW and Victoria in the same period: 4500 and 4900, respectively.

“If public sector wage increases are not keeping up with inflation, which is potentially what’s happening regardless of what state you’re in, people’s disposable income is squeezed. And it makes sense to look at whether different states have a better standard of living,” Edwards said.

“Also, we are in a context where job vacancy levels are at record high levels, and therefore people have an opportunity to change jobs.”

Indeed, Queensland was the top destination named by Unions NSW survey respondents who said they were considering a cost-of-living-inspired move. Of those people, 54% had Queensland in mind.

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