2,000 nurses protected with new agreements in aged care

NSWNA negotiates new union collective agreements with major aged care providers.

More than 2,000 aged care members are set to benefit from new union collective agreements (UCAs) that protect pay and conditions in the insecure environment created by the Howard governments’ WorkChoices legislation.

The NSWNA has negotiated proposed new agreements on behalf of members with three major aged care employers – UnitingCare Ageing, Presbyterian Aged Care and Salvation Army Eastern Territory Aged Care, which will lock in pay and conditions until July 2009.

As The Lamp went to print, members were about to vote on whether to approve the new agreements.

The agreements are based on the template agreement negotiated between the Aged and Community Services Association (ACS), the NSWNA and the Health Services Union (HSU).

‘We worked with ACS to negotiate a template agreement to establish agreement on minimum standards in an enforceable document that covers a large number of nurses working for employers who are members of ACS,’ said NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes.

‘Some of the first employers to come on board are UnitingCare Ageing, the largest aged care provider in NSW with 90 facilities, Presbyterian Aged Care and Salvation Army Eastern Territory Aged Care.

‘It’s a move by these employers that shows they value their nurses and other aged care staff. They have heard messages from nurses that there should be an AIN team leader classification and higher pay for endorsed enrolled nurses, and worked with the Association to negotiate a sound and fair agreement.

‘These employers are now seen as “employers of choice”. Nurses will be attracted to and choose to stay with employers that do right thing by their staff and come to the table to negotiate a fair agreement on pay and conditions.

‘These new Union Collective Agreements (UCA’s) provide a strong benchmark for agreements across the aged care sector. Other employers will be now under pressure to also come to the negotiating table.

‘In such a climate of severe nurse shortages in aged care, aged care employers cannot afford not to offer their staff a fair agreement and security in pay and conditions,’ said Brett.

The new UCAs preserve nurses’ existing conditions and deliver a minimum 3.5% pay increase per year.

Members will also benefit from improvements in conditions including the introduction of nine weeks’ paid maternity leave and adoption leave, and an increased rate of accumulation for long service leave after 10 years’ service.

Other improvements include:

  • Recognition and a pay scale for Endorsed Enrolled Nurses;
  • Increased entry salary for newly-qualified RNs;
  • Updating the definition of an AiN with the provision for an AiN to be a team leader;
  • A requirement that RNs be given hand-over time at the beginning of their shift;
  • No overtime in unreasonable circumstances, such as when staff have family responsibilities;
  • Long-term casuals have the right to apply for their position to be made permanent.

The agreements with UnitingCare, The Salvation Army and Presbyterian Aged Care will also include a union delegates’ recognition clause, which gives delegates the right to meet with management and members in the workplace, and a consultation clause, which places obligation on management to consult with staff over any planned workplace changes.

Importantly, the agreements include a dispute settlement clause that allows for court arbitration when matters cannot be resolved by talks between affected members and your employer. This makes members’ conditions legally enforceable in the WorkChoices environment.

Agreement provides professional recognition

Liz Graham (back far right), DoN, and Michael Rosa (back far left), AiN, at Wesley Heights Nursing Home are among the NSWNA members about to sign a union collection agreement with their employer, UnitingCare Ageing.

‘Staff at Wesley Heights could not be happier. Our pay and conditions have improved,’ said Michael.

‘The inclusion of nine weeks’ paid maternity leave is a big win. I’m also very happy AiNs are getting better recognition. The provision for AiNs to be made team leader is a professional boost and recognises our skills.’

Liz agrees that the new agreement will provide a better career path and structure for staff and promotes their professional development. ‘There is recognition for nurses doing additional study, and the pay scales for EENs have been simplified,’ she said.

‘Importantly, staff are feeling a sense of security. We know what’s happening for the next two years.

‘It’s a good result and during the process of negotiating, management worked together with staff,’ said Liz.

‘People feel valued. It’s a move that will encourage people to stay with UnitingCare,’ she said.

How you can get a union collective agreement at your workplace

If your employer is a member of ACS
If your employer is a member of ACS (one of the two NSW aged care employers’ associations, the equivalent of an employer’s union), they will have been sent a copy of the template agreement and encouraged by the Association to adopt it.

Talk to the Union contact at your workplace and ask to see the information the NSWNA has posted Branch Officials about the template or download a copy from the NSWNA website www.nswnurses.asn.au.

Talk to other nurses at your workplace about asking your employer to offer you a union agreement. Together, approach your employer with your request.

Arrange a meeting of nurses and all other staff and pass the following resolution at your meeting, or even collect a petition with everyone’s signatures:

’The staff of [insert your workplace name] ask that our employer give us security of wages and conditions by offering us the template union collective agreement negotiated between the NSW Nurses’ Association, the Health Services Union and the employers’ representative, ACS.’

Don’t worry if your employer is not a member of ACS
The template agreement can apply at all workplaces that are now in the federal IR system – this is most aged care workplaces. You can still ask your employer to offer you a UCA.

If you are still covered by the state IR system, the template can be renegotiated by the NSWNA and your employer to comply with these different laws.

Call the NSWNA on 1300 367 962 for more information and to find out which aged care employers in your area have offered pay rises and legally enforceable union agreements.