There was a sea of red in Hyde Park on a perfect picnic day, as 200 aged care nurses, their families and supporters gathered to press their claim for better pay.
The Time To Act campaign for better pay in the for-profit aged care sector increased momentum with a picnic and rally in Hyde Park on 18 May.
More than 200 people gathered to send a strong message to the Aged Care Association (ACAA) NSW, which was holding its annual Congress in the Sheraton Hotel across the road from the rally.
NSWNA Assistant General Secretary Judith Kiejda told the crowd that they had good reasons for cynicism about their better interests being served at the employers’ Congress
“No doubt they are using this time to strategise about how to get the best out of the aged care industry. But history tells me that the strategy probably won’t include how to make your working lives better,” she said.
Judith said it was time to increase pressure on ACAA NSW and employers to ensure nurses receive a fair pay rise.
“So far ACAA have made no offer at all,” she said. “I know you love your work and they trade on it day after day. You have told us over and over again that you can no longer provide quality care with the resources you have.
“You tell me that the industry cannot attract and retain an appropriate nursing workforce because the pay and conditions are lousy – way behind other sectors.
“That needs to change.”
Several activists from other parts of the aged care sector shared their experiences from their successful pay campaigns.
Stephen Mierendorff talked of the pay campaign at BUPA. “Originally BUPA put forward an EBA that they believed would be unanimously accepted by the staff across the state. That EBA took away conditions in return for an 11% pay rise over four years.”
Stephen said BUPA was pressured into coming up with a much better agreement in response to BUPA branches growing their NSWNA membership and forming activist groups in each facility. They gathered signatures on a petition and postcards to reinstate former conditions, held ‘no vote’ pickets and the union conducted a serious media campaign.
Judy Nemaia, an AiN from Strathdale Nursing Home, explained how she and her workmates were successful during their six-month pay campaign in 2010.
“At each of our three nursing homes we formed campaign teams and networked together to grow a majority union membership across the company.
“The crucial turning point in our campaign came when we were able to demonstrate by a petition that a majority of nurses wanted a new agreement. Once we knew we had a majority of nurses in the union we knew we could win.”
Norma Bukalan, AiN, Columbia Marrickville. 21 years working in aged care.
“Aged care nurses need better pay now. We’ve been waiting for so long. We need to bridge the gap with the public sector. If not we’ll be left behind.
“This is what the Time To Act campaign is all about. The gap in wages shouldn’t be like that. There should be no difference when we do the same work. It’s time for AiNs with their Cert 4 to be recognised for their qualifications and to be paid properly. If they have their Cert 4 they can give medication and they should be recognised for that.
“My colleagues feel strongly about the campaign. The work is getting harder but the pay is not getting any better. A lot have been joining the union during the campaign especially the casuals.”
Margy Scott, AiN Moran Sylvania. 28 years in nursing.
“I’ve been doing nursing for 28 years and I love my job. I love my workplace, my residents and the team I work with.
“I want to increase my skills especially working in aged care. I’ve improved my qualifications so I can give better care.
“It’s not just about money. We should be recognised for our qualifications and we’re not.
“I’m behind the campaign. It’s about fighting for our rights. We’re all here for aged care.
“When you walk into a house and the residents’ faces light up, it makes it all worthwhile. We’re a family to them. We make it as comfortable and as nurturing as we can. It’s so important to them.”
Maureen McLean, RN, Meredith House, 28 years working in aged care.
“I came today because I want to support the union and to get fair wages for aged care nurses. Everything is becoming more expensive. We need a pay increase just to keep up with inflation.
“It’s also for recognition of our valuable work. It’s a difficult job. We need better pay so we can continue to care for our residents.
“At the moment, unlike other homes, we have a reasonable number of RNs. We always have two on night shift – one in each building. But, in the future, ENs will replace RNs if there aren’t sufficient pay increases. If the RNs leave the quality of care will go down.
“The campaign has got people in my workplace interested in joining the union because they see the union as being important for better pay and conditions or if they ever have any problems. The staff at Meredith House are very supportive of what the NSWNA are doing.”
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