Hospital closures leave staff in the lurch

Nurses at Canada Bay and Lismore private hospitals have been left without pay or super after owners Owen Ferguson Health went into receivership.

The NSWNA urges all nurses and midwives to check their superannuation statements regularly to ensure their super is being paid, in light of the collapse of private hospital owners Owen Ferguson Health (OFH).

OFH owned Canada Bay and Lismore hospitals in NSW, as well as a facility in Melbourne and one in Queensland. The company also had an option to build a new hospital near Homebush.

Staff at Canada Bay hospital expected it to re-open on 4 January after a temporary close down in early December. Instead, nurses learned the hospital’s property and the building itself were up for auction, and were informed by text message that they had no longer had jobs.

OFH – which owes surgical supplier Smith & Nephew $1.3 million – was put into liquidation, and the Association was able to file claims for unpaid wages on behalf of members via the Federal Government’s GEERS (General Employee Entitlements Redundancy Scheme) scheme.

However, GEERS – a Government initiative that pays unpaid wages and entitlements to staff when a company goes bankrupt – does not cover superannuation, and many staff at Canada Bay had not been paid super for up to 12 months, despite employees’ pay slips stating that it had been paid.

Things were no better at Lismore. ‘We started getting complaints of super not being paid at Lismore,’ said NSWNA Assistant General Secretary Judith Kiejda.

When Union officials visited the Lismore site, the receivers had been there for a couple of days. This was as a result of NSW Health – which licenses private hospitals – closing the hospital because it was breaching some required standards.

‘The staff were extremely upset – they had only 15 minutes’ notice that the place was going into receivership,’ said Judith. ‘They were shell-shocked and very worried. There’s not all that much work around up there.’

As with Canada Bay, staff hadn’t been paid super for up to 12 months and had not been paid for two weeks, leaving some in dire financial straits. They are intending to put in a GEERS claim.

Jan Clarke, an RN who had worked at Canada Bay for 16 years, said she felt ‘cheated’ and ‘disillusioned’ at the hands of OFH.

‘I’m very disappointed at the way they’ve treated us,’ she told The Lamp. ‘We feel really cheated the way they lied to us. They kept my salary sacrifice, which was $400 a month, so I’m really upset. And with GEERS you get a maximum of 10 years for your redundancy – some of the girls have been there for 35 years so they will lose out big time.

‘It makes me angry that the employees obviously meant nothing to these people.’

Jenny Doyle, an RN who had worked at Canada Bay for 10 years, agreed: ‘It’s a kick in the teeth,’ she said. ‘I’ve not been paid since December. It’s been very stressful. It affects people’s health when this happens because you’re stressed and anxious.’

Jenny emphasised the importance of being a member of the NSWNA. ‘It’s good to be in the Union because they do give you some help when you’re in trouble and you’ve got someone on your side when you need assistance.’

Regularly check your pay and super are in order

  • Always check your super statement to ensure contributions are being paid into your account.
  • Even if your payslip states that super contributions have been paid, cross-check with your super statements – do not rely on your payslip alone.
  • If your super payments are not being made, contact the Union, your super fund and the ATO.
  • If your employer goes into receivership or bankruptcy contact the NSWNA immediately.
  • Being a member of the NSWNA gives you access to assistance when you need it, so encourage your non-union colleagues to join today.