View Comments
Barnett backs down in nurse pay battle
Facing the press: Colin Barnett explains his decision. Picture: Simon Santi/ The West Australian

Colin Barnett has caved in to nurses' demands for a hefty pay rise, saying people could have died if staff had walked off the job.

In a move that will cost WA taxpayers an estimated $71 million extra over three years, the Premier said yesterday he had no choice but to agree to a revised deal after being told that planned rolling strikes and bed closures would risk lives.

"When you are faced, as a Premier, with clear professional advice that lives could be lost - and they probably would be - I think I had a responsibility to act on that," he said.

The in-principle agreement to increase nurses' wages 14 per cent over three years comes days after Mr Barnett said the Government could not afford more than a 12.75 per cent pay rise over three years.

Opposition Leader Mark McGowan seized on Mr Barnett's backflip, saying he had forced the saga to drag on unnecessarily.

"Two days ago Mr Barnett said under the caretaker conventions no offer could be made to WA nurses," Mr McGowan said. "Yet within the space of 48 hours he has changed position and announced that the Government had struck a deal.

"If Mr Barnett can't be believed from one day to the next, how can he be trusted to deliver any promise he makes during an election campaign?"

The deal - which cannot be formally signed until after the State election, assuming Mr Barnett remains in power - will give nurses a wage increase of 5 per cent from July 1, followed by annual increases of 4 per cent and 5 per cent.

It leaves a hole in the Government's Budget, which had initially allowed for a 9 per cent increase over three years for a total cost of $124 million. The revised offer of 12.75 per cent would have cost $149 million, but the pay deal struck yesterday amounts to about $195 million, based on indicative estimates not yet costed by Treasury.

Australian Nursing Federation State secretary Mark Olson said he expected members would be happy, despite having previously said they wanted a minimum 15 per cent.

"I think it's an excellent outcome for the nurses," he said.

The Australian Medical Association WA said the ANF had used patients as pawns.