Sunday 4th December 2011
After a hard-fought campaign NSW nurses won nurse-to-patient ratios and funding for the estimated 1400 additional nurses required to meet the extra staffing levels.
As the year rolled out we were reminded time and again of the need to be vigilant if we are to maintain what we have already won and to be resolute if we are to improve on what we have got.
The dust had barely settled after the NSW state election in March when the new O’Farrell Government declared war on the pay and conditions of public sector workers.
Strong action was required at the local level in the public health system to ensure management matched staff to increasing demand in our hospitals.
Despite these challenges the commitment, organisation and creativity of NSWNA members paid rich dividends with more funded nursing positions in our public health system and better pay and conditions throughout the sectors.
The year ends with more challenges to be met. We need to ensure that the new nursing positions are deployed and filled with the appropriate staff. The wages gap in aged care needs to be addressed. There is ample evidence that employers and the Liberal Party are once again preparing an assault on workers rights.
Public health system
We didn’t get everything we wanted in our public health system pay and conditions campaign but our achievements were momentous nonetheless.
In many areas the nurse-to-patient ratios/Nursing Hours Per Patient Day achieved were better than those existing in Victoria, which had been our benchmark.
On top of the ratios we won good pay rises of 3.9 per cent, 3 per cent and 2.5 per cent over the next three years. The first pay rise was backpaid to July 2010. The second began in July this year.
Midwives finally got the breakthrough they had long been waiting for with their own tool for controlling their workloads – Birthrate Plus. As the year draws to a close phase 1 has been implemented.
In February, NSWNA members working for Healthscope private hospitals won a two year agreement with pay rises of 3.8 per cent per year bringing their pay in line with the Public Health system over the course of their agreement. The agreement covers 2000 nurses at 12 facilities in New South Wales.
Calvary Private hospital in Wagga Wagga achieved a 3.85 per cent increase per year over, two years along with improved maternity leave and other conditions. St John of God Private Hospital members also celebrated a 3.8 per cent pay rise and a three year agreement.
In March, Shellharbour Private Hospital members won a 13.5 per cent pay rise over three years – their first pay increase in three years.
In August, nurses at Macquarie hospitals took industrial action – a first for private hospital nurses – against a particularly recalcitrant employer.
Defend public services campaign
The O’Farrell Government had barely unpacked their boxes in their plush new offices following the March state election when they set about attacking public sector wages and conditions.
The government passed new laws that cap wage increases at 2.5 per cent – effectively a cut in real wages. These new laws shift power massively towards management during negotiations for public sector wages and conditions. They reduce the IR Commission to a rubber stamp for government wages policy.
Nurses in NSW disability services were immediately affected, but all nurses in the public health system will be impacted when the award comes up for renewal in mid-2013.
12,000 rallied outside parliament on a rain drenched day immediately after the laws were passed. The government was given notice that this was merely a start to a longer campaign when nearly 40,000 turned up for a second rally in the Domain on 8 September.
There was good news and bad news for nurses in the Productivity Commission’s report on aged care. Finally there was recognition of the need to fix the wages gap between aged care and public hospitals and improve staffing and skill mix in the sector. The timeframe to fix these issues was disappointing however.
Aged care nurses and supporters shifted their focus to the federal government and piled on the pressure with visits to federal MPs asking them to sign a pledge to support aged care reform. Postcards were send to the Prime Minister and the community were involved through stalls, petitions and the Because We Care website.
A new agreement struck with Aged Care Services representing employers in the not-for-profit aged care sector, gave nurses a minimum 3 per cent wage increase. For the first time the agreement states that Assitant in Nursing wages be at least 3.5 per cent above the Nurses’ Award minimum rate.
NSWNA film festival
The NSWNA Film Festival was, again, a showcase for budding nurse filmmakers. This year’s festival threw up a number of interesting, and often moving, short films that provided insight in to the world of nursing.
Finding the nurses to fill the new positions in our public health system is a challenge and in August the NSWNA promoted the new jobs in a television advertisement. RPA RN Katrina Wilczek was the star that promoted nurse-to-patient ratios and invited nurses back to the profession.