Norfolk Island Living Wage Case Underway

  • 19 July 2013
L-R : Troy Wright (CPSU), Juanita Swynenberg (NI PSA Secretary), Brian Buffet (NI PSA President) at NI Courthouse

Former Federal Court Justice K Lindgren heard submissions this week for an adjustment to the wages of the approx 170 island based public service employees.  The submission was developed by local delegates and placed a great emphasis on the inflationary pressures on the workforce living on the Island.  The NI PSA approached CPSU to assist with the advocacy.  Norfolk Island (NI) is one of Australia’s external territories and the only non-mainland territory to achieve self-governance.  With a population of a mere 1700 and an economy heavily dependant upon tourism the previous two wage determinations had been heavily influenced by increases in costs of living. 

The NI public service includes those employed in electricity generation, waste, justice, telecommunications, forestry and land management, customs, fire and emergency services, tourism, and much more.  Whilst the promise of an absence of income tax sounds alluring, it should be remembered that the majority of public service positions attract salaries between $25K and $36K only per annum. 

NI Administration argued their incapacity to pay any more than their rejected offer, which was 3% and a flat $10 p/week, the latter actually not being a rise at all but compensation for the removal of an employment condition that entitles employees to one airfare to mainland Australia every two years.  Given this had been the central pillar of their submissions in 2003 and 2008 it was challenged as a prophecy that had been proved incorrect on previous occasions. 

Norfolk Island has its own nine member parliament, which has the power to pass legislation in so far as it does not conflict with that of the Commonwealth.  The Public Sector Remuneration Tribunal Act 1992 (NI) permits the Administrator, on the recommendation of the Legislative Assembly, to appoint a person to perform the functions of the Tribunal, which relevantly include at section 8 of the Act, whether an adjustment to the wages of the public service is necessary and if so, how much and when. 

In determining any wage adjustment, section 9 requires the Tribunal to consider the following four criteria:
(a)    the public interest;
(b)    economic conditions in the Norfolk Island community;
(c)    concepts of equity and fairness that apply in the Norfolk Island community; and
(d)    such other matters as are, in the opinion of the Tribunal, relevant to the proper performance of its functions.

The last determination by the Tribunal was made in 2008, and before that in 2003.  In November 2012 the NI PSA lodged an application to the Tribunal for an increase in wages.   

Upon conclusion of the hearing, directions were issued for both parties to tender supplementary submissions in August 2013, and a decision is expected to be handed down in September.