Funding must be directed to staffing and care hours

NSW received $1.9 billion of recurrent funding and $11 million in capital grants in 2004/2005 for aged care from the federal government.

Pressure exerted by the NSWNA through our Fair Share for Aged Care campaign led to more funding for nursing homes and a greater transparency and accountability from employers.

Evidence presented by the NSWNA and accepted by the industrial relations commission during the last aged care pay case found that employers had the capacity to pay increases.

Our challenge

We must ensure that taxpayers’ money is spent on quality care not on profits. It is a political challenge to ensure that the sector is appropriately funded to deliver high quality care. It is an industrial challenge to ensure a fair share of the funding flows through to better pay and conditions for employees.

Defending our workplace rights

The federal government’s new IR laws are unquestionably a threat to your rights at work.

These laws:

  • Remove protection from unfair dismissal;
  • Strip back award conditions;
  • Make it easier for employers to cut penalty rates, overtime pay, redundancy and work allowances.

But you still have rights. They’ve been watered down but they still exist.

Our challenge

We must be organised, strong and united. If we stick together employers will still have to listen to our voice and deal with us collectively. But in the longer term, we need to change the system to preserve our rights. Ultimately, getting rid of these laws can only be achieved via the ballot box.

Getting organised for better pay and conditions

30 March 2007 is the anniversary of the last 6% pay rise in aged care. From this date, the NSWNA will be able to make claims on employers for even better pay and conditions. But to be successful we need to be organised and we need to start now.

The advantages given to us in bargaining by the nurse shortages will only be successful if we are well prepared on the ground during any bargaining campaign.

This will require us to:

  • Sign up as many people as possible into the union;
  • Ensure that all aged care facilities have an NSWNA branch;
  • Get members to attend union meetings so we are united in what we want;
  • Improve our communications across different company facilities.

Our challenge

We must get organised early so we are in a position to negotiate with employers as a united group and be clear in what we want to achieve.

More nurses and more funding for quality care

Diane Hudson, DDON at Anita Villa Nursing Home, said working in aged care is a brilliant job and she wouldn’t work elsewhere but the challenges in the sector are formidable.

‘We need more funding for aged care. There is not enough. In nursing homes you can see it impacting on patient care – they’re just not employing enough staff,’ she said.

‘I can see it from a manager’s point of view – where does the money come from? We need better wages and conditions but we also need more funding so we can have better wages and conditions.’

Diane says the big challenge is to keep staff.

‘We’re the lowest paid among nurses – public hospital nurses get paid more. We train AiNs to be EENs, then they go and work in the public hospitals where they can earn more money and get different experience.

‘It’s almost impossible to get RNs and EENs in aged care and we need to get and keep this expertise.’

Diane said she is fearful of how the federal government’s new laws will exacerbate these problems.

‘These laws aren’t fair; wages are already low as it is in aged care. If they cut penalty rates and overtime, why would you want to work night shifts or weekends?

For many aged care nurses, this is the only way to make ends meet,’ she said.

Forget touchy feely, get organised

Jay Davis says the federal government’s new IR laws provided her and some of her colleagues at Springwood nursing home with ample reason to form an NSWNA branch.

‘I could see the writing on the wall. We might not have needed a branch in the past but we’ll definitely need it in the future,’ she said.

Jay said they are trying to build the union membership up again at Springwood so they are prepared as a union when they have to negotiate a new contract.

‘You need to get organised before the fact. We need to be ready as a union when the negotiations start,’ she said.

‘Even though our employer is a charity, their bottom line is to make money. No touchy feely here.’

Jay says she is clear about one thing she would like out of any pay talks.

‘I’ll be looking for a collective agreement. I don’t want to negotiate an AWA with my employer.

We’ve already proven that employers can afford to pay

In the 2004 Aged Care work value case Professor Bob Walker, one of Australia’s pre-eminent authority on accounting practices, submitted evidence on behalf of the NSWNA that proved the capacity of aged care employers to pay the pay rise.

His analysis highlighted the need for better financial accounting in aged care for residents and families.

Professor Walker examined financial documents from 18 aged care facilities submitted by employers and concluded they were unrepresentative of the industry as a whole.

Professor Walker said that most evidence presented by employers dealt with nursing homes in isolation, rather than as integrated businesses combined with retirement villages. The employers’ evidence also failed to take into account sources of income such as revenue from retention of accommodation bonds.

We’re prepared in the union office

The NSWNA has prepared for the consequences of the federal government’s new laws to ensure the union is well equipped to defend the interests of nurses even in such a hostile environment.

The NSWNA has evolved a new internal structure so we are well prepared to bargain effectively in this new workplace environment.

We will retain our SWOT team, which will continue to focus on growing our membership in targeted workplaces and will prepare workplaces in pre-bargaining campaigns.

Our DOT team will continue to provide our members with information and advice and represent you on claims and industrial matters.

A new team – the Strategic Industrial and Bargaining Team – will oversee our bargaining strategy for all our members.

We are broadening our communications with sector newsletters such as Aged Care Action and cross-company newsletters to complement the information you receive in The Lamp.

Our website – www.nswnurses.asn.au – continues to grow as an information and resource centre for union activists and is where you can do business with your union 24/7 including paying fees online and joining the union.