Nurses, emergency staff and teachers are keeping regional communities afloat during times of crisis, tragedy and disruption, according to a groundbreaking UOW report released today.
The report, commissioned by the South Coast Labour Council, reveals public sector workers not only helped save lives during the Black Summer bushfires and Covid crises, but their paychecks also saved our economies.
Author Associate Professor Martin O'Brien said this is the first time anyone has measured the annual contribution of public sector income to the Gross Regional Product (GRP) of the Wollongong, Bega Valley, Eurobodalla, Snowy Monaro, Queanbeyan-Palerang, Shoalhaven, Wingecarribee, Shellharbour and Kiama local government areas.
"We know public sector workers spend 80 per cent of their wage in their community - when you're in a tourist town hit with the double whammy of bushfires and then a global pandemic the customer who is a local teacher, nurse or firey or Service NSW worker becomes your lifeline," said South Coast Labour Council Secretary Arthur Rorris.
"We're talking about keeping the local services open like the coffee shop across from the local hospital, schools and emergency workers and nurses risking their lives every day to get us through times of crisis.
"Public sector workers are not just saving lives but they are saving livelihoods, too."
Public sector employment in the seven local government areas studied far outweighed that of the Greater Sydney and Australian labour markets.
While the workers make up 13 per cent in the Greater Sydney market and 15 per cent the Australian workforce, frontline workers accounted for 20 per cent of overall employees in Kiama and almost a third of the entire labour force in Kiama.
The economic contribution of the public sector's footprint also grew at a more rapid rate in the South Coast regions between 2015/16 and 2020/21, with Queanbeyan-Palerang surging 4.5 per cent compared to 0.8 per cent growth in Greater Sydney over the same period.
The report highlights this could have been even higher if the NSW government had not frozen wages.
"Unless the Government takes not of this impact on regional economies and removes the straight jacket from teacher and public sector salaries we will see two things occur," said Deputy President of the NSW Teachers Federation Henry Rajendra.
"First, the projected teacher shortage will increase far more steeply than expected and second, the regional economies such as the Illawarra will pay the price of constraints on growth, skills formation and quality of education for our children."
The Illawarra Mercury newsroom is funded by our readers. You can subscribe to support our journalism here.
Sign up for breaking news emails below ...