Union cooperation vital to improve health

Health unions are working closely together to improve aged care staffing and defend public hospitals, Brett Holmes told annual conference.

Stronger cooperation among health unions has aided the battle to protect regional public hospitals and will be vital in advancing other campaigns such as better staffing of aged care, said NSWNMA General Secretary Brett Holmes.

Brett told the 2017 annual conference the NSWNMA had reached an agreement with the Health Services Union (HSU) on coverage of assistants in nursing (AiNs) and care service employees (CSEs).

“We recently signed a memorandum of understanding that sets out each of our union’s understanding of coverage issues and a way of dealing with disputes that have dogged us on and off over the last 17 years since the creation of the CSE category,” he said.

“This has kept us from being truly able to work together in aged care campaigns and has at times hampered our respective bargaining efforts.

“Nothing is ever solved overnight but I have hope.

“Our ability to truly work in coalition with other unions like HSU and the Doctors’ Union and the community is absolutely essential if we are to have any chance of winning.

“And we are seeing some of those wins in the fightback against the privatisation of regional hospitals.”

Brett said the NSWNMA joined forces with the HSU, the Doctors’ Union and Unions NSW to force the state government to back down on the privatisation of Goulburn, Bowral and Wyong hospitals.

“This campaign has certainly been one of strength in unity – with the community joining us at forums and rallies to reinforce the outrage and send a clear, strong message to the government that it is not okay to privatise our public hospitals.

“We forced Liberal MPs in Shellharbour and Bowral to listen to us and abandon their mission of finding the most ‘efficient’ model, and to promise they would do the right thing by the community.

“We influenced the narrative and changed the government’s own line of hospitals being delivered ‘faster, bigger and better’ to make this issue less about efficiency and more about the local community.”

The fight against privatisation is not overBrett said health unions would keep fighting to stop the privatisation of Maitland and Shellharbour hospitals.

He said delegates should not be swayed by the government’s recent announcement that it would seek a not-for-profit organisation to build and run the new Maitland Hospital.

“Although it is not a private profit-based corporation do not be fooled – this is the same deal.

“The government still hasn’t got it that ratios save lives, and the private sector for profit or not-for-profit simply don’t get it either.”

Brett said the new understanding with the HSU would allow the NSWNMA to focus on a national campaign to improve staffing and skills mix in aged care facilities.

He said the campaign to be launched later this year would focus on achieving staffing wins at a nationwide level.

“It is a big battle, delegates, and we will need each one of you to help the community understand that they can demand our government and our politicians step up to deliver the care our elders need and deserve.”

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More members, more gains

General Secretary Brett Holmes has urged union members to encourage their work colleagues to join the NSWNMA in order to strengthen the campaign for improved and extended nurse-to-patient ratios.

He told the national conference the union’s campaign for improved ratios was achievable “if we draw on our collective strength. We won some ratios in 2011 and now – while the state budget is in surplus – is the time to demand the government take public health seriously and plan for our future.

“We know that the politicians will start listening when the next state election is near.

“We need a commitment from you, our members, to take action in 2018 and 2019 if we are to achieve a better outcome.

“There is strength in numbers but whether we make change is dependent on you, as delegates, to stand up with your colleagues, speak out when there is injustice – even if it seems it does not directly impact on your lives – and make sure the people working beside you are members.

“Sign them up, organise them and try to transform them into active and engaged members.”

Time to repair the Fair Work Act

Brett said nurses needed greater workplace bargaining power to overcome biased industrial laws.

The Fair Work Commission’s decision to cut penalty rates for some of Australia’s lowest-paid workers early this year showed how national industrial law has been rewritten to favour employers.

“We have already had attempts from two aged care operators to reduce weekend pay in their enterprise agreements.

“The so-called Fair Work Act is broken. There are now at least six legal processes with traps all along the way before we can force the employer to the table to bargain for an enterprise agreement in the federal system.

“Even then, they can sit there and simply say ‘no’.

“It is not an even playing field to negotiate on your behalf when governments have created an imbalance of power in favour of the employer.”