NSW Premier Morris Iemma talks to The Lamp about his decision to make public hospital nurses government employees.
How did your stint as Minister of Health influence you in coming to this decision?
My time as Minister for Health gave me a great understanding of the tremendous workload that nurses willingly take on to assist seriously injured people every day.
I am proud of my commitment to nursing and to nurses. I was particularly pleased that the NSW Government was able to conclude its wage negotiations with the NSWNA, with the assistance of the NSW Industrial Relations Commission, with no need for industrial action.
While we had our differences, I developed a strong respect for the NSWNA, its leadership and its members. I know that nurses do not like taking industrial action. That is not why they took on the vocation, and that is why it is so important to have a system which allows differences to be resolved in a sensible and independent manner.
John Howard’s WorkChoices laws threaten all of these gains. The terms of the legislation are so restrictive that reference to workloads could be removed from industrial agreements. You would be transferred into the Federal system and your Award conditions would be stripped back. The role of the ‘Independent Umpire’ would be eliminated.
What drove you to make this move to keep nurses within the NSW IR system?
The NSW Government has opposed John Howard every step of the way in order to protect overtime and penalty rates, carers’ leave and paid parental leave, and a range of other entitlements. All of these established conditions are under direct attack by WorkChoices.
The NSW Labor Government takes the view that this legislation is unconstitutional so we are challenging it in the High Court.
We also think it is immoral and that is why we will not wait for the High Court to make its judgment. We have passed laws to protect our industrial relations system.
We have legislated for a shield to keep the WorkChoices axe from falling on our essential public services such as nursing in public hospitals.
We don’t want the Commonwealth’s picket lines around our hospitals and ambulance stations.
What chance is there that these measures could be overturned?
NSW is confident the recent measures we have put in place to protect public sector workers, including nurses, will withstand any challenge from the Howard Government.
Of course, if the NSW Opposition were to take office they could introduce legislation to strip away our important measures. And remember, Peter Debnam has committed to refer our industrial relations powers to the federal government.
How confident are you that the Government’s High Court challenge to the constitutionality of WorkChoices will be successful?
The NSW Government believes that the grounds on which we have mounted the High Court challenge to WorkChoices are strong.
The case we will put before the High Court will demonstrate that the Howard Government has misused its authority in conducting a hostile takeover of powers that are constitutionally vested in the States.
Vox pops 1:
Annette Taylor, NE from the Repatriation Hospital, Concord, says the move to make public hospital nurses into government employees is very important.
‘If they took away penalty rates, if they took away awards, things that nurses have fought for through their union, then nurses wouldn’t hang around.’
Vox pops 2:
Wendy Kable, CNC at Canterbury Hospital, has been nursing for 42 years and says she is very relieved by the NSW Government’s decision to make public hospital nurses employees of the Crown.
‘I’m absolutely thrilled and congratulate our Premier Morris Iemma on what his Government has done – he has recognised the strength and worth of nurses.’
Vox pops 3:
Anne O’Connor, CNS from St George Hospital says nurses can’t be lulled into a sense of complacency by the protection given by the state government.
‘The state government has done something serious and active to protect nurses. But if there’s a change of government in the next state election we won’t have this legal protection. We can’t be complacent. The federal government relies on our complacency. We need to be more aware.’
Vox pops 4:
Jackie Myers, RN/Midwife at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, believes the majority of the Australian public do not agree with the federal government’s industrial relations agenda.
‘I think the NSW Premier has shown a bit of muscle over this issue. He has shown a lot of leadership and I hope that other states follow in his footsteps.’
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