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'Puppet of the banks': Union bites back at Business SA

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The state’s public sector union has hit back at Business SA as “rabid” and “out-of-touch” after the chamber of commerce weighed into its pay dispute with the Weatherill Government.

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After InDaily this week revealed the Public Service Association was gearing up to “go to war” over a Enterprise Bargaining negotiation standoff, Business SA boss Nigel McBride came out swinging, describing the state’s bureaucracy as “a privileged group of employees completely out of touch with ordinary South Australians”.

“The terms and conditions of the public sector worker are privileged by comparison to anyone working in a small business,” he said, describing demands for a pay rise over the Government’s budget-imposed 1.5 per cent a year cap as “completely out of touch and unsympathetic with their fellow South Australians and what they’re facing”.

McBride’s intervention was peculiar given his organisation’s high-profile involvement in a stoush with the Labor Government over its budget bank tax.

The PSA has previously demurred from weighing into public spats with Business SA over its calls for wage restraint, but it bit back today, with general secretary Nev Kitchin calling McBride’s contribution “ill-informed comment” and suggesting Business SA was “an irrelevant puppet of the big banks at war with the State Government”.

“Nigel McBride has taken time out from Business SA’s campaign for the most privileged and protected employers in Australia – the banks – to have a cheap shot at public servants who dedicate their daily lives to supporting our community and small businesses,” Kitchin told InDaily in a statement.

“Mr McBride is willing to sacrifice the interests of the 4000 businesses he says he represents in his illogical ideological attacks on the public servants who support them.

“Public servants are an integral part of the SA community and interact with ordinary South Australians every day in the course of serving our community.”

Kitchin said the “rabid out-of-touch views” were at odds with Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe, “who says the economy is being held back by low wage growth and that employees should have the confidence to ask for higher pay”.

Australia’s sluggish wage growth has sounded national alarm bells. Lowe said in June that “some pick-up in the labour share of national income would be welcome… it would make us all feel better”.

Nigel McBride. Photo: Business SA website.

Kitchin said with the cost of living outstripping wage growth, “a cut in the real pay of the 37,000 wage earners for whom the PSA is negotiating a new agreement means a cut in the expendable income of almost 10 per cent of Business SA’s members’ customers”.

“Business SA bureaucrats should be talking up the benefits of potentially increased economic activity for its SA business members – not attacking the very people their members depend on in many different ways and who protect and serve our community,” he said.

The PSA insists its demands are “completely reasonable”, having detailed to Government 29 “productivity improvements” across government departments that it says would offset a proposed pay increase of 2.5 per cent a year.

Other unions, including the Nurses’ Federation, have secured pay deals in excess of the Government’s cap since the 2016 budget.

It’s been a week of controversy for Business SA, which launched a new wave of ads attacking the bank tax on the weekend before losing its fight for a payroll tax exemption under charitable status yesterday.

McBride was not available for comment today.

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