3 way-protection for nurses

Australia gets new workplace laws from 1 July this year when the Labor Government’s Fair Work Bill comes into effect. It will bury John Howard’s unfair WorkChoices and restore your rights in the workplace. And it will create a new system of national awards including one for nurses.

3-way protection for nurses
Safety net + New awards + Enterprise agreements

1. Safety net for everyone

The new laws provide a stronger ‘safety net’of minimum standards.

Under WorkChoices there were only five minimum standards for pay and conditions. From 1 January there will be 10 minimum standards:

  • A 38-hour week and the right to refuse unreasonable overtime.
  • Up to 24 months’ unpaid parental leave.
  • Right for parents to request flexible working arrangements.
  • 4 weeks’ paid annual leave plus an additional week for shift workers.
  • 10 days’ paid personal/carers leave, 2 days’ compassionate leave and 2 days’ unpaid emergency leave.
  • Unpaid community service leave.
  • Long service leave.
  • All national and state public holidays.
  • Notice of termination and, if employed in a business with 15 or more employees, redundancy pay.
  • Employers must provide new employees with an information statement about their rights.

2. New awards set minimum standards for nurses

On top of the safety net are new awards that set basic standards for particular industries and occupations, such as nursing.

Awards will set minimum wage rates, types of employment, hours of work, overtime and penalty rates, allowances, leave, procedures for consultation and dispute resolution, etc.

Awards cannot provide less than the 10 ‘safety net’ standards but can go above them.

A New Nurses’ Occupational Award

A new Nurses’ Occupational Award starts on 1 January 2010.

It will only apply to nurses working under the national industrial relations system who aren’t already covered by a collective agreement.

If you are not employed in the NSW public sector and don’t have a current collective agreement then you will most likely be covered by the new Federal Award.

The new Federal Award will contain 10 ‘allowable matters’:

  • minimum wages
  • types of employment (full, part-time, casual)
  • arrangements for when work is performed (including hours of work, rostering, notice periods, rest breaks and variations to working hours)
  • overtime rates
  • penalty rates
  • annualised wage or salary arrangements including averaging of hours (having regard to work patterns in an occupation)
  • allowances
  • leave, leave loadings and arrangements for taking leave
  • superannuation
  • procedures for consultation, representation and dispute settlement.

If your pay is above the minimum rates set out in the new Award, your current rates are protected. Under the new laws, a court order can be made against any employer who tries to cut your pay as a result of new minimum award standards.

3. Enterprise agreements increase pay and conditions at your workplace

Enterprise agreements provide a third, higher level of protection. They will be the main avenues for improving wages and conditions in your workplace, with the union as your bargaining agent.

If workers don’t push for an enterprise agreement at their workplace, they will not receive pay increases regularly unless covered by minimum wage yearly increases.

If you don’t get a collective agreement then there are no pay increases for RNs and most ENs who are not at minimum wage levels.

Will the new laws apply to me?

The Fair Work laws and new Nursing Award will cover the vast majority of nurses in aged care facilities, private hospitals, and private sector specialist services such as medical practices. Nurses employed by the State Government such as NSW Health Service, DADHC and Police will generally not be affected unless the State Government decides to refer its industrial relations powers to the Commonwealth.

However, all employees including NSW Health nurses will be covered by some parts of the Fair Work laws including minimum standards for notice of termination, unlawful termination and the national employment standard for parental leave.