Awards overhaul threatens pay

The Federal Governments sweeping award modernisation process has thrown up anomalies and consequences that could impact on the pay of private sector nurses in NSW.

Award modernisation aims to reduce the current 4,000 state and federally-based awards and industrial instruments to approximately 150 ‘easy to find and apply’ modern awards.

This enormous and complex rationalisation has led to some employees on award wages being adversely affected.

In a decision that is being challenged vigorously by the NSW Nurses’ Association, the Australian Industrial Relations Commission set the pay rates that would apply nationally in the new nurses’ award at a level considerably below the current NSW rates.

Nurses who earn the current minimum of $738 a week are faced with an $88 a week pay cut. An RN with eight years’ experience could lose $295 a week.

Following union pressure, the Federal Government has created ‘take home pay orders’ which, it says, will prevent wages and conditions from being cut in this way.

The NSWNA has raised its concerns about the practicality of applying and implementing these orders.

The goal is to promote bargaining

NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes says the AIRC decision will not affect nurses who are protected by enterprise agreements but could affect thousands of aged care and other private sector nurses who rely on the award.

‘The problem is concentrated in the for-profit sector of the NSW aged care industry where enterprise bargaining is a relatively new concept introduced under WorkChoices. The charitable providers have largely embraced bargaining, but the for-profit sector has been highly resistant and used WorkChoices to justify a virtual pay freeze for three years,’ he said.

‘We have told both Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard they must intervene in this process as a matter of urgency.’

Brett said there is a sobering lesson to be drawn from this process.

‘From now on, bargaining is the only way private sector nurses will be able to improve their pay and conditions. The award is merely a basic level of protection.

‘Over the past few years the Association has managed to work with many aged care nurses for agreements where good improvements in pay and conditions have been won.

‘We need to maintain this trend and it will require nurses to become organised to achieve good results, particularly in those workplaces where recalcitrant employers refuse to negotiate fair agreements with their staff.’

What we are doing

The NSWNA and the ANF have made strong representations to the Federal Government and Fair Work Australia to strengthen the protection in the new nurses’ award:

  • Union pressure has led to the creation of ‘take home pay orders’, which are intended to prevent a cut in wages;
  • Our submission to Fair Work Australia pushes for a delay in the implementation of the award to allow more time for nurses to win secure enterprise agreements;
  • The ANF and NSWNA met with senior advisors to Minister for Industrial Relations Julia Gillard, who has agreed to support the NSWNA submission to delay for two years the implementation of the new pay rates;
  • NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes has outlined the plight of aged care nurses in a letter to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and urged him to intervene.