'Tipping point' in paramedic pay row as budget nears

Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS

Paramedics are threatening further industrial actions as pay negotiations reach a crunch point ahead of the NSW Labor government's first budget.

About 100 paramedics took part in a rally near state parliament on Tuesday in the lead-up to the budget, in a push to recognise the increasing demands on workers and the potential exodus of skilled staff to other states.

Health Services Union NSW secretary Gerard Hayes said paramedics were not being recognised for their skills and essential work under pay arrangements.

As a result, many were moving to other states on the eastern seaboard that provided better rates of pay and conditions.

Union members last month refused to staff major sporting events during the pay dispute and Mr Hayes said further industrial action was on the table.

"I think the government is listening to us, but listening is one thing and doing is another," he told AAP.

Mr Hayes said he hoped the budget would include details about a funding commitment for the sector given paramedics' skill sets had changed dramatically. 

"We're at a tipping point now where a lot of the work has been done to get across how proactive, pre-hospital care can take pressure off the system," he said.

"The heavy lifting in recognising the profession of paramedics is there, it's now a matter for the government." 

Union members have deferred a decision on a proposed four per cent pay rise, which they say fails to reflect their increased clinic responsibilities.

Nurses and midwives last month narrowly agreed to a similar offer, which will be back-paid to July.

Industrial Relations Minister Sophie Cotsis said the government was talking with the union in good faith.

"We are negotiating and we are talking, the door is open and we are sitting down and going through systematically, methodically and we are listening," she said.

The opposition accused the government of having it's strings pulled by the unions.

"This is what happens when a government loses control of it's industrial relations policy," opposition leader Mark Speakman said.

"Inevitably when you deal with one union and give it special treatment others are going to say, 'me too'."

Health Minister Ryan Park acknowledged paramedics were an important part of the state's health system but would not be drawn on details of pay discussions.

"We know that there are some challenges ahead in terms of the budget, but we also know that we have to continue to focus on our central healthcare workers," he said.

"I've also got to make sure that as a cabinet minister, we continue to deliver the health services we need in a sustainable way."

Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Park announced a budget measure to entice current and future healthcare students to join the workforce.

Study subsidies worth $4000 a year for new students and a one-off $8000 payment for existing students will be provided in a bid to address the sector's recruitment crisis.

A total of 12,000 health student subsidies will be available under a $121.9 million budget allocation over five years from January 1.

The program will be open to all healthcare degrees and the government hopes to attract 850 student nurses, 400 medical students and 150 people studying midwifery each year.

Students in paramedicine, Aboriginal health, physiotherapy and occupational therapy are also expected to benefit.

Those already studying will be eligible to apply for an $8000 one-off payment upon graduation to ensure existing students are also recognised.