NSW nurses have many reasons for satisfaction with a pay campaign that has culminated with the decision of the independent umpire, the NSW Industrial Relations Commission, to award us a 14% pay increase over the next four years.
While on the face of it, NSW nurses have received slightly less in pay over four years than other health and public sector unions, the overall package we have won is a far superior outcome on closer examination.
Both the PSA and the HSU members received a 1% per annum increase as part of their pay rises in return for forfeiting the right to pursue work value cases. We, on the other hand, received a 9.5% pay rise for work value plus Reasonable Workloads Clause and a Continuing Education Allowance in our highly successful case completed in 2004.
But a raw increase in pay only tells a fraction of what we have won in this agreement. Just as importantly, we have won some excellent improvements in our award conditions offer.
A significant gain is the increase in paid maternity leave from 9 to 14 weeks and the introduction of paid paternity leave. This meets the ACTU recommended period and is now a pacesetter in Australia. NSW public sector employees will be the largest group of employees in this country who are eligible for this quantity of paid maternity leave. It will be a great recruitment and retention tool that will encourage nurses having families to return to the workforce and will help to ease the costs associated with having a new baby.
Another strong result is the deserved recognition, through extra pay, for ENs who take on the extra education and responsibility for administering medication.
For the first time we will have an award clause containing study leave and another that will give legal protection and rights for trade union delegates.
For some classifications – CNE, NE, CNS and undergraduates working as AiNs- there is still the opportunity to pursue improved pay during 2006.
The government has committed to fund 10-hour night shifts for 60 more facilities over a six-year period.
Midwives have won their deeply held request to be recognised along side nurses in the award.
These are substantial achievements particularly in the political context where the federal government has clearly flagged its intentions to attack workers’ award conditions and rights.
The pay rise and the improved con-ditions members are now voting on will do much to innoculate us against the imminent attack we anticipate from Canberra.
In this campaign we have put pressure on the government at a community and political level. This, along with the ultimate threat of mobilising our industrial strength, delivered us a very good outcome.
Without any doubt the concerted ac-tion by members in the lead-up to 11 May, and the threat of statewide industrial action on that day, was responsible for forcing a recalcitrant government to move towards a real solution: accepting that it would fund whatever increase the Commission recommended.
NSW public health system nurses have just won significant and well-deserved improvements to their pay and conditions. But we need to understand that these will need to be defended into the future. They also get the benchmark for nurses covered by other awards such as private hospitals, aged care, disability, and other nurses in NSW.
The federal government is promising to make it harder for working Australians at a time when many are barely keeping their heads above water.
John Howard has consistently shown he is susceptible to public pressure. We need to, and we will, work with our colleagues in NSW and nationally to apply that pressure and defend these hard-won rights.
It is a time for the whole union movement to stick together.
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