Aged care nurses stung first by new IR laws – November 2006

Events unfolding in aged care have implications for all nurses in NSW

Our colleagues in aged care have been the first to be exposed to the realities of the new federal industrial relations system imposed on us this year.

I strongly believe that what happens to nurses in this sector will have wider implications for nurses working in private and public hospitals.

In this issue of The Lamp (see p16), we are looking at the industrial and professional challenges facing nurses in aged care. It is important we all get our head around these issues because they are a cautionary tale for us all.

John Howard’s new laws will force us to bargain employer by employer rather than across the entire aged care industry as before. This will be a serious logistical challenge for your union. It will pose the risk of aged care nurses being on different rates of pay and conditions.

We also look at the challenges posed by aggressive employers taking advantage of the new laws and the threats posed by AWAs.

If you work in a public or private hospital and you think this is not relevant to you, think again. Ask any New Zealand public hospital nurse what happened when similar laws were enacted there.

Nurses in NSW public hospitals are protected for the moment from the federal legislation, thanks to the Iemma government’s intervention to make them Crown employees. But even in the short term this protection is at risk. A change of government at the state election in March would open up the possibility of a state Coalition government being forced to impose its federal colleagues’ industrial relations policies on all workers in NSW, including nurses.

And even if Labor retains office in NSW, the Howard government could still use its muscle through its control of health funding to impose its will on NSW industrial relations.

This is not a fanciful idea. It is a tactic that has already been used in the university sector. The Howard government has already made it a condition of funding that the universities offer AWAs to their employees.

There are also formidable professional challenges for nurses in aged care, not the least being the use of unlicensed workers to administer medications. Again, we need to be vigilant as a practice that can be established in one sector is more easily translated to another.

It is very important that we not only know what is happening to aged care nurses but that we support them. In many ways, they are at the forefront of defending the interests of all nurses.

We want to know what issues are important to you

The Association will be phoning a random selection of members soon to identify the most important issues for you for the Federal Election next year.

We want to ensure that all political parties have the opportunity to respond to questions that the Association will put to them prior to the election, and the first step is to identify the important issues.

John Howard’s federal IR laws were not even mentioned before the last election. They were thrust upon us without any mandate. It was a travesty of the democratic process.

Next year will be a defining moment in Australia with elections to be held at both the state and federal levels. This time round we have the right to know what we are all really voting for.

If you do get a call on behalf of the Association, I would encourage you to participate.