Iemma buys time for public hospital nurses

Public sector nurses protected as government employees under Iemma`s new laws … for now at least

The NSW Labor government has taken a decisive stand to protect public hospital nurses from the Howard government’s new IR changes, passing laws that will protect their award conditions from attack.

Other frontline workers such as ambulance officers and bus drivers will also be protected under the new state laws. Police and teachers, who are not employed by corporations and can’t be moved into federal awards, are already insulated from the government’s IR changes.

This is the second major blow by the Iemma government against John Howard’s workplace laws, following the launch of a High Court challenge. The High Court is set to hear the State Government’s case in May.

NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes says nurses should be aware of the significance of what the State Government has done.

‘It means that hard-won gains like shift penalty rates and overtime, our reasonable workloads clause and paid maternity leave will not be opened up to attack under the new federal system,’ he said.

‘It also means the right to take industrial action and the right to fix disputes using the NSW Industrial Relations system will also be maintained.

‘It is excellent news for 39,000 nurses working in the State’s public hospitals because it removes the uncertainty about their rights at work and award conditions,’ said Brett.

NSW Premier Morris Iemma says the state government has made the move as an act of faith in nurses and other frontline workers.

‘WorkChoices has been designed to reduce wages, conditions and entitlements and it is a recipe for workplace conflict and disruption,’ said Mr Iemma.

‘Frontline personnel like nurses, ambulance officers and bus drivers should not be dragged into unproductive industrial disputes in a Commonwealth industrial relations experiment.’

The Daily Telegraph quoted a spokesperson for federal Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews as describing the moves by the NSW Government as ‘nonsense’.

Charitable-sector public hospitals still to sign up
About 2000 nurses employed in hospitals known as ‘affiliated health organisations’ under the Health Services Act, (formerly known as 3rd and 4th Schedule hospitals) will not be automatically protected from WorkChoices. In order for these nurses to be similarly protected, the Boards of those facilities must decide to transfer their workers’ employment to the ‘service of the Crown’.

Health unions are working together to encourage these employers to follow the government’s lead and show they are prepared to protect nurses’ conditions and rights to a fair industrial system.

Debnam still wedded to WorkChoices

In a surprising move, the state opposition did not oppose the Iemma government’s bill to make public hospital nurses direct employees of the government.

But Opposition leader Peter Debnam made it clear he had not altered his position on the federal government’s IR changes.

‘We will legislate to refer a majority of our industrial relations powers to the Commonwealth if elected in March 2007,’ he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

He refused to say what the Opposition intended to do to the NSW IR Commission. ‘We will spell it out later in the year,’ he said.

What the state government has done

  • made more than 186,000 public sector staff employees of the crown. This will include nurses, ambulance officers, bus drivers, TAFE teachers, home care workers and many others. By removing these staff from corporatised entities, they will be shielded from Howard’s laws.
  • extended the powers of the NSW Industrial Relations Commission to rule on common law agreements between employers and workers. This will allow employers and workers to continue to use the popular NSW Commission.
  • converted some consent awards to agreements to stop the wage deals they contain from being frozen by the federal government’s laws.