Breakthrough lifts aged care benchmark

A company operating seven NSW facilities has signed a union agreement that lifts the wages and status of aged care nurses.

Five hundred NSW nurses have signed off on a breakthrough agreement that takes aged care earnings above public hospital rates.

The Hardi Aged Care Group union collective agreement delivers wage movements of 4.5% to 29%, from 1 February, significantly boosts the hourly rates of Assistants in Nursing, recognises qualifications and includes a formal mechanism to resolve workload issues.

Eighty-four new members joined the Nurses’ Association during a nine-month campaign that set new sector standards.

NSWNA General Secretary, Brett Holmes, praised nurses at Hardi facilities, and the attitude of their employer.

‘From day one, Hardi knew where its staff stood,’ Brett said.

‘Nurses were offered the choice of AWAs, a non-union agreement and a union collective agreement. About 84% supported the union model and we received more than 170 responses to a survey about issues they wanted addressed.

‘To its credit, Hardi honoured the vote of its staff and addressed many of those things, without demanding clawbacks in return.

‘The company used the opportunity to confront problems affecting aged care. As a result, it has established itself as employer of choice in a sector that struggles with recruitment and retention.’

The Hardi agreement was even more remarkable because it was finalised before the federal election, with the shadow of WorkChoices hanging over private sector nurses.

On the surface, it delivers annual 4.5% wage movements over its three-year life but these come on top of drastically compressed wage steps, and new recognitions for qualifications and skills.

For example, RN steps have been slashed from eight to just two. A first-year RN at Hardi jumps from $21.12 to $27.17 an hour – a 29% increase. A fifth-year RN goes from $25.71 to $31.87 an hour – a 24% increase.

Wages for first-year ENs moved by 11% from 1 February, while hourly rates for Endorsed ENs (EENs) and AiNs jumped 10%.

New recognition payments mean effective hourly increases for AiNs with Certificates III and IV of between 22% and 33.5%.

Louisa Maua, delegate at Hardi’s Wyoming Nursing Home in Summer Hill, recommended the offer to 20 workmates.

The AiN told The Lamp she thought it was an ’excellent’ outcome.

‘Some stuff we asked for we didn’t get, but most of it is in there. Under WorkChoices, the big concerns were annual leave, sick leave and penalty rates and they haven’t been touched,’ Louisa said.

‘Recognition of qualifications is important. This company wants us [AiNs] to get our certificates and this gives people a real incentive to improve their nursing skills.

‘It works for us and it works for the company.’

Louisa said workloads was the biggest problem facing Wyoming staff and the new clause was a step in the right direction.

She said several workmates had joined the Association during the campaign and only four nurses had yet to sign up.

‘I’m still working on them because it is important to talk together and act together,’ she said.

Louisa’s comments reflected those of Brett, who called the Hardi agreement a ‘genuine win-win outcome’.

‘The condensing of pay scales has meant bigger percentage increases for new and young nurses and that is crucial in an industry confronted with an aging workforce.

‘It goes some way towards making aged care attractive to young, skilled staff,’ he said.

He said the agreement also reversed an aged care trend away from specialised roles such as educators and clinical unit managers.

Importantly, he added, Hardi had agreed the Clinical Unit Managers would be new positions, rather than being drawn from existing staffing

At a glance

  • Wages will move up by a minimum 4.5% from 1 February 2008, 2009 and 2010.
  • The compression of pay scales means effective first-year increases of 9-40%.
  • The agreement expires on 31 January 2011.
  • New classifications will include a Unit Team Leader, Facility Educator, Acting Night Manager, Clinical Unit Manager, Mobility Nurse and Night, evening and weekend Managers.
  • The classification Endorsed Enrolled Nurse is recognised for the first time.
  • AiNs who hold a Certificate III or IV in Aged Care will be paid higher hourly rates.
  • New Continuing Education Allowances for RNs with postgraduate qualifications.
  • A new workloads clause provides for Industrial Relations Commission resolution of intractable disputes.