Better deal for SOS nurses

A substandard WorkChoices agreement covering a group of home care nurses in Tamworth has finally been replaced with a better agreement.

About 100 home care nurses have finally got an enterprise agreement with guaranteed pay increases, after the NSWNMA fought and won several court cases on their behalf.

The agreement covers nurses employed by Tamworth-based SOS Nursing and Home Care Service, who travel in their own cars to visit clients at home.

Acting General Secretary of the NSWNMA Judith Kiejda

“These nurses have been stuck on miserable WorkChoices conditions since the dying days of the Howard Government in August 2007,” Acting General Secretary of the NSWNMA Judith Kiejda said.

The new enterprise agreement includes three wage increases of 2.75% over the next three years.

It includes provisions to allow employees – all currently casuals – to convert to permanent employment. It also guarantees minimum shifts in line with awards. Previously there was no minimum shift period meaning nurses could be asked to work for as short a time as 30 minutes.

There is also an explicit provision for payment for time spent travelling between clients – an issue the NSWNMA and SOS Nursing have battled over since 2007.

The union went to the Fair Work Commission on behalf of SOS nurses in 2013 after the company finally moved to replace its WorkChoices agreement.

Judith Kiejda said that because the company’s replacement agreement was marginally better than the WorkChoices deal, employees voted for it. But it was still inferior to the award, which is regarded as the bare minimum standard.

The Association challenged the agreement in the Fair Work Commission, arguing that it failed to meet the “better off overall” test designed to ensure that agreements are at least as good for workers as their award.

The commission upheld the Association’s case and asked SOS Nursing to improve the agreement. Instead the company walked away from the proposed agreement, leaving nurses on the old WorkChoices agreement.

“The only way to get rid of a WorkChoices agreement is to replace it with a new agreement or to terminate it,” Judith said. “So we went back to the commission to ask it to terminate the WorkChoices agreement, and called two SOS nurses as witnesses to give evidence about their sub-standard conditions.

“The commission agreed to terminate the WorkChoices deal, which forced the company to come up with a new enterprise agreement or move to the award.

“SOS then offered an improved agreement which employees endorsed in a secret ballot.

“During the second ‘better off overall’ test, the union argued the agreement should be further improved, especially with regards to weekend penalty rates. This time, SOS came to the party and made the changes and the enterprise agreement has come into force.”