Public sector workers who provided Western Australia with “support at the time when we needed it the most” during the pandemic have expressed disappointment after the State Government extended its wage cap policy.

Delivering the State Budget, Treasurer Ben Wyatt announced the state’s 150,000 public servants would be limited to wage increases of $1,000 for the next two years, before a pay hike in line with CPI beyond that.

Mr Wyatt said a tight wages policy might not be popular, but “when you’re in the public sector, you’ve got a secure job and that’s certainly worth its weight in gold.”

“I guess politicians should feel lucky they’ve got a job too,” WA Police Union president Harry Arnott said.

“But in all reality, our people have done enough for budget repair, they’re out there every day protecting the community.”

CPSU branch secretary Rikki Hendon said the policy was incredibly disappointing, especially given public sector workers provided essential services through the pandemic.

“[The budget] is very much focused on a jobs led recovery, from COVID-19, for Western Australia,” Ms Hendon said.

“So as the public sector union for Western Australia, we’re incredibly disappointed that we haven’t seen an investment in public sector jobs as part of that jobs-led recovery.

“Public sector workers assisted Western Australia, drove Western Australia’s response to the COVID crisis, they assisted us in the health sector, they continue to deliver public services when many other industries, understandably, had to shut down.

“They provided us with that support at the time when we needed it the most and they’ll continue to be pivotal as we move forward and have to recover socially and economically.”

Businesses want end to hard border: CCI

Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA chief economist Aaron Morey welcomed the Treasurer’s $27 billion infrastructure spend, but his praise of the budget ended there.

“We were a little disappointed that the budget does not go further, that is does not drive further initiatives for the business sector to join with the Government in fighting this unprecedented economic challenge,” Mr Morey said.

“I don’t buy the arguments around the government hoarding cash in a surplus.”

Mr Morey said Treasury’s prediction the border would not come down until at least April was too late for many business owners.

“For a number of businesses that date is untenable,” he said.

“Around a third of businesses in this state identify that they’re impacted by those border restrictions, to a great or moderate extent.

“Whether it’s difficulties managing their workforces, whether it’s not being able to access tourists. Not being able to travel to other jurisdictions to fight for business.”

Lack of health spending slammed

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) said it was “gobsmacked” there was not more money for health in the budget.

“There is no plan for more doctors, more nurses in the time of the pandemic or to fix the system which is being crippled by [issues including] ambulance ramping,” AMA WA president Andrew Miller said.

“We are flabbergasted as to why, when it’s just been pointed out that the best thing for the economy is to make sure your community is healthy, that the Government has turned around and taken their good fortune and not taken the opportunity to put money at this time into health.

“It’s ridiculous quite frankly.”

The Government said it was investing $9.6 billion in its 2020–21 budget to “strengthen WA’s health system”.

Public sector wage cap ‘disappointing’

UnionsWA secretary Meredith Hammat said public sector workers would be sorry to see the wages policy continue.

“I think it’s important that people remember that our public sector workers have already done a significant contribution to repairing the budget in WA over the last four years,” Ms Hammat said.

“That much of the money that’s available to the State Government today, to support industries in the pandemic recovery, is there because of the wage restraint that public sector workers have experienced.

“These are the same workers that did the heavy lifting during the difficult times of the pandemic, people in our schools, in our hospitals, who have kept our communities safe.”

Ms Hammat said the sector’s hope for the policy to change had been expressed.

“There’s no doubt that the pandemic created a set of circumstances that perhaps hadn’t been anticipated,” she said.

Households are winners, at least for now

Households are expected to be $663 better off this year, mainly thanks to a one-off $600 electricity bill rebate and a freeze in household fees and charges.

But the freeze is not destined to last, with increases in power prices of 2.25 per cent forecast each year over the next four years.

Jennie Gray from the WA Council of Social Service said she was worried about the impact of future increases on struggling households.

“We’re absolutely concerned about any increase in tariffs after the freeze ends,” Dr Gray said.