The bold and the cynical – February 2009

Private hospital employers Healthe and Healthscope have signed up to good agreements with their employees but Ramsay continues to stall – a tactic that smacks of cynicism.

Besides delivering good pay rises and a raft of improved conditions, the agreements with Healthe and Healthscope close the gap with public health system nurses. In recent years, private hospital pay rises have lagged a year behind the public health system. At Healthscope that lag has been cut to six months, at Healthe to nine months. These are significant gains (see page 14).

In contrast, the country’s largest private hospital operator, Ramsay, has wasted months during bargaining talks with NSWNA officials tabling ridiculous offers the company knows are unacceptable to their employees and which are now grossly inferior to the sector standards set by their competitors.

This is a cynical tactic that the Association has become familiar with over the years. The longer they stall, the more money Ramsay retains as profits at the expense of nurses’ wages.
This is mean spirited behaviour from a company, which, according to its own annual report, had revenues of $2.7 billion and a net profit of $123 million last financial year.

The Healthscope and Healthe agreements, besides the annual pay increase of 3.9% and 4.1% respectively, also deliver other tangible improvements with a Continuing Education Allowance and better paid maternity leave. Healthe has also included a stronger workloads clause, increased night duty penalty rates and increased EEN rates.

All these improved conditions will see private hospital nurses employed by these two companies on more favourable terms relative to their colleagues in the public sector than they were previously.
Healthe have agreed to an extra 3.8% for EENs and the Healthscope agreement allows a review of the EN classification by April 2009. These are gains yet to be achieved in the public health system.
Healthscope and Healthe have approached the bargaining talks in a constructive manner and the result has been a win/win for the companies and their employees.

We now expect Ramsay to change its attitude and come to the bargaining table with more respect for its employees. This would be a good starting point and should lead to a better offer that would recognise the stellar contribution of its nurses to its success as the biggest private hospital operator in the country.

Garling points the way
The release of the Garling Report is a watershed moment for the NSW public health system. Commissioner Garling is to be commended for authoring a report that provides an accessible and objective analysis of the problems and the challenges facing the system.

He starts from the point that NSW has a world-class health system and that its integrity is maintained by a highly-skilled and dedicated workforce in the face of enormous pressures.
But he then goes on to catalogue the numerous systemic weaknesses that have built up in the face of sudden increased demand and inadequate funds – particularly from the previous Federal Government, the rise in the cost of treatment and catastrophically inadequate workforce planning.
Garling’s report, coupled with the increase in health funding by the Rudd Government and the move to ground our health system in a wellness model with more emphasis on preventative care and primary care, gives us hope that our hospitals can be pulled back from the brink.

These new trends will take time to alleviate the pressure on our hospitals and in the meantime we will have to maintain our vigilance with management in the Area Health Services, who are preoccupied with their immediate budgetary crises.

The State Government publicly promised that their budget cuts would not impact on frontline services and we intend to keep them and their AHS management to their word.