Focus on pay, workloads

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Norma: "We have to give nurses more time to interact with residents."

Norma: “We have to give nurses more time to interact with residents.”

Nurses at Columbia Aged Care Services want to build on the benefits delivered by their first enterprise agreement, with a decent pay rise and reduced workloads their priority.Norma Bukalan remembers how pleased she and her fellow nurses at Columbia Aged Care Services were when they won their first enterprise agreement almost two years ago.

“It meant we were no longer stuck on minimum award wages,” said Norma, an Assistant in Nursing at Columbia’s Acacia Centre in the Sydney suburb of Marrickville.

“Everyone was so pleased we finally had an agreement that delivered us a pay rise followed by a guaranteed increase the next year. Also the casuals got an increase in their shift loadings.”

Columbia’s enterprise agreement expires in June and staff – like those at many other for-profit nursing homes – are preparing to campaign for a new agreement with better working conditions.

“Our pay is still really low compared to the public sector so a reasonable pay increase should be our top priority,” said Norma, the local NSW Nurses’ Association delegate.

“Our next priority is to reduce workloads, which have definitely increased since 2010.”

Norma says there are not enough staff members to allow nurses to spend adequate time with residents or to deal with unpredictable events.

“Management only looks at the numbers of residents and doesn’t take into account the time nurses need to respond to residents’ individual conditions and their families’ concerns.

“As a result staff have to stay back to finish work and are not being paid for it.”

Norma also points to a rise in the number of patients with dementia, meaning staff must more often deal with difficult and challenging behavior.”

When residents are uncooperative and aggressive you need time to sit down with them and calm them down. We have to give nurses more time to interact with residents to gain their confidence and reassure them.”

Norma said union membership at Columbia more than doubled as a result of the NSWNA campaign two years ago, meaning that nurses enter into this year’s campaign in a potentially stronger position.

“This time we need to involve the community and families of residents more. We should try to get our message across through the media as well.”