Public Service Association (PSA) members ranging from prison officers, park rangers, school support staff, ServiceNSW workers and civilian police employees are striking for 24 hours.
Union members marched up Macquarie Street in Sydney on Wednesday morning, but the crowd did not match the size of recent strikes by teachers and nurses.
Other demonstrations are being held across the state in Bathurst, Dubbo, Grafton, Newcastle, Tamworth and Wagga Wagga.
“We’re hoping for a very good turnout,” PSA’s general secretary, Stewart Little, said, adding he would love to see 30,000 members hit the streets in protest.
The strike comes after the PSA last week gave an ultimatum to the government to commit to a pay rise.
On Monday the premier, Dominic Perrottet, announced the 2.5% annual cap on public sector wage rises would rise to 3% next financial year, and 3.5% the following year dependent on productivity gains.
The PSA’s senior vice-president, Juliette Sizer, told members a fair pay rise “starts at 5.2%”, 0.1% above inflation.
The government also announced frontline health staff would receive a $3,000 bonus in recognition of their work during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The proposal has been widely supported, but there has been criticism that some teachers, police, departmental health staff and other public service workers would get nothing or lose out in real terms.
Little said no one is more deserving of the bonus than health workers, but it should include PSA members who work in the ministry of health.
“The epidemiologists, the contact tracers … stopping the pandemic overwhelming our community,” he said. Teachers, prison officers and emergency service workers should also get the payment, he added.
Unions have called for the wages cap to be raised further to at least reflect the rate of inflation, while some want it abolished altogether.
Labor has also been pushing for changes to the bargaining process between unions and the government.
The opposition leader, Chris Minns, has described it as “fundamentally broken”.
Little said the independence of the Industrial Relations Commission needed to be reinstated.
“For 100 years we had an Industrial Relations Commission; this government cut its feet off,” he said.
Perrottet said the strike was all about politics.
“Our public servants have just received the biggest public sector pay increase anywhere in the nation,” he said. The wage rise was fair and responsible within the confines of the 21 June budget, he said.
“It’s not just the public servants that are going through a challenging time, it’s every person across NSW after coming through the pandemic.”.
Little said a pay rise for public servants would benefit the broader economy.
“He’s in charge of the largest workforce in the country … no one more than Mr Perrottet can do something about addressing wages,” he said.
“We had a decade of wage restraint.”