Bega-based nurses and midwives had passing motorists tooting and pedestrians cheering as they rallied against proposed wage cuts this week.
NSW Nurses and Midwives Association delegates and colleagues held a "silent" rally outside Andrew Constance's Bega office on Tuesday morning, June 2.
While the nurses were silent, medical masks on and appropriately spaced, passing motorists were keen to show their support in numbers.
Last week, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced a proposed wage freeze for the entire public sector, including frontline responders such as nurses, teachers, police and firefighters.
The freeze would affect almost 410,000 workers, in an attempt to save the state coffers as much as $3billion.
The government's plan is to reinvest the funds into public projects that would create jobs as the state faces a growing unemployment queue.
The pause would not apply retrospectively, meaning a public sector worker's 12-month pay freeze would begin with their next pay agreement.
However, the move created instant backlash from the community, with unions calling it a "insult" and "ineffective" policy.
Adding to the insult was a move by Treasurer Dominic Perrottet on Sunday night in offering nurses and midwives a one-off $1000 payment instead.
For a nurse on an estimated average salary of $80,000, a 2.5 per cent wage rise equates to $2000 a year.
Outside the Bega MP's office, NSWNMA Far South Coast delegate Diane Lang called it a "bribe" to try to silence outraged nurses.
"There was a public backlash on their wage freeze announcement and this was the government wanting the unions to tell Labor and the Upper House that 'everything's okay now, don't oppose it'," Ms Lang said.
"It's yet another slap in the face."
Another NSWNMA delegate at the rally, Jerry Langford, said they understood there was an economic crisis on the back of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that any cuts to vital workers like nurses was "opportunistic".
"The Liberal government has a long history of failing to support nurses," Mr Langford said.
"They're responsible for denying nurses safer patient ratios and wage stagnation.
"We're not detached from the fact there's an economic crisis - but this is disrespectful."
Ms Lang said the already negotiated and agreed to 2.5 per cent annual wage rise for public servants like nurses was vital.
"That 2.5 per cent means nurses and midwives are better off, but also the community is better off.
"We want to help rebuild local small businesses, the mum-and-dad-shops."
Her sentiments echoed that of Arthur Rorris, secretary of the South Coast Labour Council, who last week said the government proposal equates to removing 2.5 per cent out of the economy, which hits particularly hard in bushfire-affected regions trying to re-energise local business.
"It's easy to see that if you reduce the amount of money in people's pockets, you can't rebuild businesses looking for customers spending," Mr Rorris said.
"What kind of a bushfire stimulus is this when you give with one hand and take away with the other - it's counter-intuitive."
NSWNMA general secretary Brett Holmes said the $1000 one-off payment wasn't an offer or a negotiation in good faith, "but an 11th hour ultimatum by a government desperate to freeze public sector workers' wages".
"Nurses and midwives are hurting. They've shown up for work, shift after shift, to protect their communities in this pandemic, which isn't over, and this is how they're repaid," Mr Holmes said.
"This is nothing more than a cowardly act by the government to move ahead with their wage freeze, despite the Prime Minister confirming on Friday that no state would be left worse off as a result of COVID-19 and also gifted NSW an extra $9.3billion in health funding."
Andrew Constance's office has been contacted for comment.