Class action to defend pay

284 NSW homes named in Fair Work application.

The NSWNA and other nursing unions have launched an unprecedented class action to protect the wages of thousands of aged care nurses not covered by Enterprise Agreements.

The NSWNA, Queensland Nurses’ Union and Australian Nursing Federation have asked Fair Work Australia to issue a ‘take home pay order’ to preserve current award rates.

The new national Nurses Award 2010 replaced State-based awards for aged care on 1 January.

There will be a four-year transition to uniform wage rates across Australia, starting 1 July.

NSWNA Assistant General Secretary Judith Kiejda said Fair Work Australia has set pay rates below what nurses on award wages in NSW and Queensland are already getting.

‘This gives employers the opportunity, if they so wish, to reduce nurses’ pay and other conditions,’ Judith said.

She said the Federal Labor Government promised that no worker would lose pay in the transition to uniform national awards.

‘The Government said that if any employer imposes a wage cut, unions can apply to Fair Work Australia for a take home pay order to preserve that worker’s previous conditions,’ Judith said.

‘Instead of waiting for employers to cut wages we are seeking to block them with this class action for take home pay orders.

‘This is also a landmark case because no one has ever tried to use the take home pay provisions to protect the workforces of a large number of employers.’

A total of 284 private and not-for-profit nursing homes in NSW and 116 in Queensland are named in the class action.

Nursing homes put to test

Negotiate before 1 July, employers told

About half the aged care nurses in NSW are threatened by pay cuts from 1 July.

They risk having their wages reduced when new national award rates – lower than the old NSW and Queensland award rates – come into force in July.

These nurses are already the lowest-paid in NSW, on minimum award rates only.

Their employers so far have denied them the benefits of an Enterprise Agreement – including above-award wages, guaranteed annual wage increases and paid maternity leave.

The NSWNA has written to nursing homes that do not have Enterprise Agreements, asking them to agree to maintain current pay and conditions while negotiating Enterprise Agreements before July.

‘This will test the sincerity and intentions of employers,’ said NSWNA Assistant General Secretary Judith Kiejda. ‘In the next three months we will find out which nursing homes value the contributions of their nurses, and which don’t.’

Judith said that in moving to a uniform national award for aged care nurses the Fair Work Australia tribunal has set rates below what nurses in NSW and Queensland are already getting. The result could be pay cuts of up to $300 a week for a senior nurse.

‘Aged care nurses who already have an Enterprise Agreement are not only protected from the risk of a pay cut, they are also getting guaranteed annual pay increases and improved conditions,’ she said.

‘For profit’ sector is worst offender

Most aged care nurses not covered by an Enterprise Agreement work in the ‘for profit’ sector of the industry.

‘Under the old WorkChoices system, most “for profit” employers refused to bargain for an Enterprise Agreement because the Howard government’s legislation did not require it,’ said NSWNA Assistant General Secretary Judith Kiejda.

‘It is now easier for the NSWNA to get employers to the negotiating table and it is time for the for-profit sector to match the pay rates offered by most charitable sector employers.’

Judith said most nurses at ‘not for profit’ or charitable nursing homes were covered by Enterprise Agreements based on a template negotiated by the Union and the employer association, the ACS.

‘However, a few not-for-profit employers are still holding out despite the recommendation of their own employer organisation.

‘The charitable-sector employers that have not offered their employees an Enterprise Agreement have made a decision that they don’t value their staff – because even their own advisor ACS has been recommending they adopt an agreement that provides for annual pay rises.’