Tradies vs Nurses: “insane” salary gap draws mainstream media backlash

Paul Eyers
By Paul Eyers
6 Min Read

They are two of the most hard-working careers you could choose.

Being a tradie or a nurse often means long hours, tough working conditions and plenty of overtime. 

And both play a vital role in keeping Australians safe. 

But when it comes to pay brackets, that’s where the similarities stop – at least according to mainstream media. 

Last week, mainstream publications slammed the pay difference between tradies and nurses as “insane”, citing pay discrepancies posted in a series of viral TikTok videos. 

The salary differences shown, including a scaffolder earning $3,000 a week versus a GP clinic registered nurse earning $1800, were subsequently described as an “insane salary gap” that “exposed a major problem”. 

However, eagle-eyed tradies, known for their high attention to detail, were quick to blast the comparison as “fake news”, with the wages likely far more comparable when adjusted to a per-hour basis.

Not bad analysis from the side who didn’t need to get a university degree…

The scaffolder drew outrage from mainstream media and some healthcare professionals for earning nearly double the wage of the nurse.

In the original clip, the scaffolder says he is doing 57 hours a week, nearly 20 more hours than the nurse, most of which would take place outside of standard business hours at penalty rates.

Meanwhile, as the nurse worked in a GP surgery, she was unlikely to receive penalty rates or do overtime at all.

“I’m a nurse, and these are not fair comparisons. (The) scaffolder works almost 50 per cent more hours than the nurse, so he gets penalty rates for those long hours. Our nurse is probably working a standard week without penalties,” a commenter named Peta said.

“Misleading…The salary gap isn’t ‘insane’ when broken down into hourly rates. It also should be taken into account that the scaffolder works in a high-risk job, which is also undoubtedly subject to overtime, whereas a GP nurse does not and would work standard hours in a clinic.” another wrote.

“Comparison is crap… the tradie wage, you have them working 56 hours while the nurse wage you do not.” a third said.

What’s it like working as a registered nurse in Brisbane?📍👩🏼‍⚕️ #brisbane #jobs #salarytransparency #pay #retail #hospitality #fyp #viral #nurse #nursing

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Many people failed to note the nurse worked 20 hours less per week than the scaffolder in the comparison.

When adjusted, if the nurse in the comparison were given the same 18 hours in overtime at a 1.5 times penalty rate, she would earn $3000 a week – the same as the scaffolder. 

Build-it spoke to former scaffolder and current Queensland Health registered nurse Aaron Franklin, who says the wage difference between the two industries is very individualised and often less varied than some people make it out to be.

“Both tradies and nurses play a vital role in society where mistakes can cost someone their life; therefore, they deserve to be remunerated fairly for their time,” he told Build-it.

Queenslander Aaron Franklin worked as a scaffolder before transitioning to a career in nursing.

“I have seen both industries up close and witnessed how, over time, weekends and public holiday rates can significantly boost take-home pay.”

“It doesn’t matter if you are a nurse or a tradie; if you are taking advantage of overtime and penalty rates, then either career could earn more than the other,” he explained.    

The two clips by popular jobseeker app Getahead have amassed more than 8.6 million views and 3000 comments on the social media platform, with tradies and nurses being asked what they do and how much they earn. 

Meanwhile, another video posted last month showed several nurses earning up to $150,000 per year or $75 per hour with overtime. 

However, that didn’t stop the Nurses’ Professional Association of Queensland president Kara Thomas from criticising the pay difference between tradies and those in nursing roles.

“This discrepancy shows a significant undervaluation of the critical and lifesaving work,” Ms Thomas said.

“It is deeply insulting to recently hear the Premier proudly state that our nurses have some of the best pay and conditions, while knowing they have taken an effective pay cut due to inflation.

“Meanwhile, he provides jaw-dropping incentives to his CFMEU buddies, who are paid double time even when tools are down.”

It’s not secret tradies are some of the best-paid workers in the country, with union members in Queensland recently scoring an additional $1000 a week travel bonus and double pay for emergency workers in rainy conditions.

Meanwhile, CFMEU Cross River Rail workers recently went on strike in a bid to boost entry-level salaries to more than $240,000 a year after adjustments. 

However, those bumper salaries are almost exclusive to union sites, with most Aussie tradies earning a lot less. 

Analysis conducted by insurance brokerage Trade Risk found the average gross salary for a tradie last year was $90,940, whereas the Australian Bureau of Statistics has an industry average of $93,704.

That’s marginally higher than the average registered nurse salary of $87,827, according to data from job recruitment agency Talent

Not so “insane” to us.

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Paul Eyers has worked as a journalist for a range of media publishers including News Corp and Network Ten. He has also worked outside of Australia, including time spent with ABS-CBN in the Philippines. Stepping away from the media, Paul spent five years sharpening his tools in construction - building his skill set and expertise within the trade industry. His diverse experiences and unique journey have equipped him with an insider view of Australia’s construction game to dig deep into the big stories.