Sheriffs walk off the job over staffing crisis, poor pay

Coffs Harbour sheriffs stop work to protest against staff shortages and pay levels.

SHERIFFS from Coffs Harbour, Bellingen and Macksville walked off the job last week, joining colleagues from courthouses in Gosford to the Queensland border and inland to protest against staffing levels and poor pay.

In Coffs Harbour, eight sheriffs protested.

North Coast Public Service Association organiser Michael Smart described the response from local sheriffs as “fantastic”.

He said the aim was not to be antagonistic, but to bring to the public’s attention the conditions and pay that sheriffs worked under.

“The courthouse doors were locked and it was an inconvenience to the public, but we had good feedback when we explained what we were doing and why,” Mr Smart said.

He said the sheriffs’ industrial action would roll out across the State, with work bans likely, until the Government listened.

The two-hour stop-work aimed to put a spotlight on what NSW Public Service Association General Secretary Stewart Little described as “a staffing crisis” and pay that had failed to keep pace with sheriffs’ ballooning duties over the past decade.

Mr Little said the Office of the Sheriff had struggled with recruiting and retaining staff, primarily due to uncompetitive wages.

He said sheriffs had tried to “play by the rules” but had been ignored for more than two years.

“In mid-2022 there was an agency restructure and the senior leadership of the Office of the Sheriff got a significant pay bump,” Mr Little said.

“In 2023 there was a review of sheriffs’ pay but the report was never released under ‘Cabinet in confidence’.

“Sheriffs waited patiently and were told the matter would be resolved in the 2024 budget, but when it was delivered in mid-June nothing happened, and now they’ve been fobbed off again with some other made up bureaucratic process, so sheriffs have just had enough.”

He said sheriffs were highly trained in what was risky and stressful work.

“Sheriffs need a solid pay bump to reflect the dangerous work they do,” Mr Little said.

“When enforcing court orders, they’ll be entering people’s properties wearing stab-proof vests, carrying capsicum spray, batons and handcuffs.

“It’s difficult work.

“Sheriffs put their lives on the line in courthouses to make sure judges, lawyers and members of the public are safe from crooks and criminals, yet they are paid the same as people with desk jobs and administration roles at the courthouse, it’s just not on.”

There are more than 300 sheriffs in NSW, attached to more than 170 courthouses.

By Mike HELY

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