Sunday 19th November 2006
We’ve come a long way in aged care but more commitment and focus than ever is needed to face the challenges presented by the new industrial relations laws.
The NSWNA is proud of our achievements for nurses in aged care.
Our Fair Share for Aged Care campaign and wage case delivered a 25% pay rise for aged care nurses between 2003 and 2006. 25,000 aged care nurses in NSW benefited from this pay rise.
Now John Howard’s new federal IR laws present fresh challenges if we are to further improve pay and working conditions in the sector.
The Australian Industrial Relations Commission no longer has the power to hear work value cases, which was the way we won our previous pay rises.
The award system – the way by which the pay increases and better conditions were delivered to aged care nurses – has been gutted under these new laws.
Our current conditions are now only preserved in a transitional way and whether they remain will be dependent on the next round of bargaining.
The Lamp looks at the enormous challenges this new environment presents if we are to improve the pay and working conditions of aged care nurses.
The federal government’s new IR laws are designed to shift power away from employees towards employers, giving them a strong hand in bargaining. The NSWNA anticipates that some employers will try to take advantage of these laws to drive down pay and conditions.
Under the new laws:
But unions and workers are not without our own strengths. The nursing shortage can be seen as an advantage when we argue for better wages and conditions.
Aged care is a growing sector and it will be important for employers to make jobs attractive to provide the sort of care required to win or hold their share of the market.
Progressive employers will work with the union to make the industry more attractive. Greedy employers will think short term and take advantage of the federal government’s anti-worker laws.
We need to negate the excessive power given to employers through the new laws with everyone in the union and strong organisation on the ground.
Scale of the sector
Single facilities are the dominant model in aged care.
John Howard’s new laws will force us to bargain employer by employer rather than across the entire industry as before. The large number of facilities and employers will confront us with a serious logistical challenge. This decentralisation of bargaining will pose the risk of aged care nurses being on different rates of pay and conditions and the laws are aimed at achieving exactly that.
The threat of AWAs
AWAs are the federal government’s individual contracts for workers. They allow employers to undermine collective agreements and leave employees much worse off.
Employers now have the power to:
Of the AWAs signed since the new laws came in:
By contrast, collective bargaining has delivered for Australian workers for over 100 years:
We must fight to make sure nobody gets left behind. A collective agreement is the best chance for a decent pay rise and the conditions that allow us to balance work and family life.
‘Why have they done this?’
Ghenet Abraha, AiN at Rosedale Nursing Home, said she is angry at John Howard and his government for bringing in new laws that threaten her livelihood when she is already just keeping her head above water.
‘You have to make ends meet and without weekend rates and overtime it would be very hard. I’ve talked to others at work and we’re all stressed when we think of the future,’ she said. ‘I ask myself, why have they done this?
‘I’m a single mum. I had two jobs – both in aged care – but the other home has closed down so I’ve had my hours reduced.’
Ghenet says she is committed to her job but she also has to think about how she can survive.
‘I like my job, I like aged care and my residents but if the money went down I’d have to look at everything.’
Ghenet says she also worries about the uncertain future ahead for her daughter.
‘My daughter finished high school last year and I wanted her to go to uni and become a nurse but now I’m not so sure. I’m worried about her future.’