Jobs but no pay

Nurses must work for free or risk everything.

Staff at a condemned Melbourne nursing home were forced to work for a month without pay because, under WorkChoices, they risked prosecution and loss of accumulated entitlements if they left the job.

Nurses and carers at the Belvedere Park Nursing Home received their last pay on 21 August but stayed at work until 20 September when the home finally closed.

The Aged Care Standards and Accreditation Agency failed the 30-bed facility on 42 of 44 care and hygiene standards, prompting the removal of all patients.

The Australian Nursing Federation (Victorian branch) said the employer refused to make staff redundant. If they had have resigned they would have lost their right to a redundancy package.

Victorian branch assistant secretary, Yvonne Chaperon, said staff had no choice but to work without pay or risk prosecution under WorkChoices and loss of redundancy pay, long service leave, superannuation and annual leave.

Thirty-two staff are owed up to one million dollars in unpaid entitlements. Individual nurses are owed up to $40,000.

Yvonne said the Howard government’s industrial laws effectively prevented the nurses from leaving their jobs.

‘Before WorkChoices came in, nurses who were not being paid would effectively have been terminated and would have been able to access unfair dismissal laws by taking the matter to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission,’ she said.

‘Under WorkChoices unfair dismissal laws do not apply in workplaces with 100 employees or less, so the Commission no longer has the power to order that these nurses be paid.’

Yvonne said that under WorkChoices:

  • If the nurses walked out – they could be prosecuted for taking unprotected industrial action.
  • If they resigned – they would lose redundancy pay and accumulated benefits.
  • If they spoke up – they could be sacked. With no protection against unfair dismissal the nurses could be sacked for no reason.

‘The Workplace Ombudsman has been investigating the nursing home with the prospect of prosecuting them but this won’t help the nurses obtain any of their entitlements,’ she said.

‘The only way they can get their entitlements is if the company is wound up and liquidated. The nurses can then apply for relief under the General Employee Entitlements and Redundancy Scheme (GEERS) run by the federal government.

‘The Victorian branch is seeking advice from our solicitors about the union applying to have the company wound up.’