A great win for aged care

May 2012

Editorialmar2012It has been a mixed month, with a massive boost to aged care funding – a tremendous achievement – and a nasty attack brewing against workers compensation.

It has been three years in the making but it has been worth the wait. The Gillard Government has announced that it wants to inject $1.2 billion over four years starting July 2013 into the aged care workforce. The money will go towards higher wages, improved career structures, better training and education and workforce planning. The new funding is dependent on the parliamentary process, so there is still a need to be cautious. It will require the passing of the budget in what is a fragile parliament and it still requires a bargained outcome by unions and employers. Nonetheless, by any account this is a major step forward for the sector and all the nurses who work in it.

The new funding is testimony to the persistence, resilience, courage and commitment of aged care nurses who have driven the Because We Care campaign.

Attack on workers’ comp

While the federal government has risen to the occasion on aged care, the NSW government continues to show terrible contempt for NSW workers. Workers’ compensation is their latest target. It is a terrible tragedy when someone suffers harm through a workplace injury, which prevents them from earning their livelihood. There are many nurses who find themselves in this situation. The profession contains inherent hazards that can lead to this.

The workers’ compensation scheme has been a hard-fought-for safety net to catch people who, through sheer misfortune in the workplace, lose their capacity to earn a living and are injured, sometimes permanently, by their work. Media reports indicate that the O’Farrell Government is planning to remove half of the 28,000 workers who currently receive benefits and medical expenses from the NSW workers’ compensation scheme. The other half will quickly find themselves on a benefit of $432 a week. There are not many people who could meet their mortgage on such an income.

If implemented, this measure will reduce many vulnerable people to abject poverty. To eviscerate this scheme, as the government appears to be planning to do, is mean-spirited and cruel. It is also unnecessary. Any worker who has been directly involved in workers’ compensation knows that there is no fat in the system and it is inevitably one of the worst experiences of their working lives. The government alleges that the scheme has a $4 billion deficit. But an analysis by Unions NSW suggests this is a confected excuse to roll back a progressive workplace right.

Unions NSW suggests a number of changes that would improve the way the scheme operates and reduce the size of its liabilities, without prejudicing the welfare of the people the scheme was designed to protect. The number of attacks by the O’Farrell Government, initially only targeted at public sector workers but now being extended to all NSW workers, continues to mount.In the past few months many nurses have visited their local MPs and made it clear that ill-thought and uninformed attempts to save money always have severe consequences for the community.

An attack on workers’ compensation entitlements, like the other workplace rights currently being eroded, will hurt our members and the community of NSW. I urge you to continue these visits to your local MPs and to continue to exert this pressure.

Ratios are rolling out

There is other good news. Our hard-fought-for nurse-to-patient ratios continue to be rolled out throughout the state and where they have been implemented the feedback is excellent. They are making a significant difference to patient care – as we knew they would. We need to continue to reinforce their benefits to the people of NSW.

Remember, these ratios are an award entitlement. There is an agreement in place that they should be delivered over two years with completion by June 2013. The NSWNA continues its oversight of this process, in some instances applying pressure to ensure delivery. So far members who have visited their local MPs have been given assurances that ratios are safe until the next Public Health System agreement is negotiated.

The most recent visit by constituents of the Health Minister extracted a verbal commitment to retention of NHPPD (nursing hours per patient day), but no commitment to expand them or ratios to other much needed areas. We will be seeking those verbal commitments, given by Minister Skinner, in writing. Expansion will require a very convincing campaign in 2013.