SA Wage Wars


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When teachers go out on strike for more pay, we all know about it.

Schools shut down, and parents are forced to take time off from their own work to care for kids.

And, of course, public hospital doctors almost brought the health system to its knees a few months ago, when they held their own´┐Żunprecedented--protest.

We might not begrudge important workers in the community the pay they deserve, but just what occupations have flourished and which have floundered in the wage wars we've witnessed?

Today Tonight set out to compare the pay rises of some of our key jobs over the past two decades, starting with those currently competing for more our tax dollars.

Emergency doctors: 20 years ago they were earning $63,000 a year.

Teachers: back in 1988, they made just over $30,000.

Then there's police officers: two decades ago their wage was $23,000 a year.

Nurses took home $25,000 20 years ago.

Magistrates set the benchmark at $70,000.

Of, course, back-bench politicians were up there, too, at $49,000.

What they earn now compared to what they were paid 20 years ago might surprise you.

We'll get to that later.

But down the pecking order a bit are to people who get the rest of us to work: bus drivers.

Twenty years ago, they took home a paltry $19,000 a year.

Roy Fensom has been a bus driver on South Australian roads for the past 30 years.

"Every time you get a pay, you sit down and figure out what you're going to pay this week and then you put off what you can't until next week," he says.

He likes his job, and thinks it's a decent enough way to earn a living.

"It's changed a lot over the last 20-odd years," he says, "but, yeah, I enjoy it most of the time.'

But Roy struggles from week to week, to support a wife and two kids on a less-than-hefty pay packet.

"We're in a position where the wife has to go out and at least try to get certain days of the week just to make ends meet, otherwise we can't do it. Now, she's got to work like a dog--we both do, really--just to make ends meet."

But the biggest surprise is just how much bus drivers' pay-packets have increased in recent years.

Or rather, how much they haven't.

Using figures supplied by unions and the Government, here's a snapshot of all our professions.

Emergency doctors' wages have shot up quite a bit in 20 years. Ten years ago, they rose to $99,038. And after their recent dispute, in 2008, it's now more than $200,000. Overall, that's an increase of 217%.

Teachers' wages also got better marks. They picked up to $45,420 10 years ago. This year, the average teacher makes $68,422. All up, it's risen 125%.

Police officers were packing $23,136 two decades ago, rising to $52,196 for current Constables. Their pay's gone up 125%.

Nurses' wages are also on the improve. Ten years ago, they rose by 51%. Now, they're on 60,300 a year. That's a total increase of almost 140 %.

Magistrates pulled in more 20 years ago than most other professions do now. Their pay more than tripled over the years, rising by a staggering 219%.

Not far behind were our pollies. A lowly backbencher grossed $49,180 a year 20 years ago, skyrocketing to more than $127,060 now. That's up by 158 %.

But if you think you've got a raw deal, spare a thought for the humble bus driver.

While blokes like Roy scraped by on $19,000 in 1988, things improved over a decade with their pay accelerating to $34,402. But then it all stalled, with drivers now earning $34,580. Over 10 years, that's a measly 178 dollars... Or less than one per cent increase.

"That's a pittance," says Roy. "The cost of living has gone up, the food's gone up, petrol's gone up. I'm paying twice as much for petrol as I was five years ago. Everything is doubled and yet my pay is basically the same."

When you compare it to the national average earnings, it just doesn't seem right.

Ten years ago, the average Aussie earned just under $40,000 a year. Now, the average is over $61,000.

Not only that, but the consumer price index has gone up by 36 % in 10 years.

So you can understand why people like Roy feel short-changed.

"I understand the nurses, they do a brilliant job. Teachers: they do the same thing. They've got their own unique problems. So do we. All we want is a fair wage."