Monday 23rd February 2009
Isolated in ‘virtual workplaces’, McKesson nurses almost pulled off an impossible organising feat, narrowly losing the vote on a non-union agreement.
McKesson did everything it could to keep nurses isolated in their ‘virtual workplaces’ and blocked information about an impending vote for a new workplace agreement.
Despite sneaky tactics from the company, beleaguered NSWNA members at McKesson put up a strong fight against a non-union agreement.
The vote for the non-union agreement went ahead last month before the NSWNA branch at McKesson had even been established, and without any meetings between staff. McKesson allowed staff no confidential access to the NSWNA or the ANF, forcing nurses to base their vote on a disjointed flow of conflicting information and hearsay.
McKesson nurses have been left with a non-union agreement that offers no real improvement to pay or conditions, allows for no guaranteed annual wage increases and does nothing to protect nurses from penalties if their home equipment breaks down.
Despite losing the vote, NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes described it as a good ‘round one’ result given the extraordinary and extenuating circumstances.
‘To lose the vote by such a close margin is an incredible outcome and a real credit to the nurses involved when you consider the obstacles they faced,’ he said.
Outside management, no one is exactly sure how many nurses are employed by McKesson or where they work from and, according to reports from some nurses, communication between staff has been discouraged and impeded by management.
Nurses also reported receiving verbal advice from management along the lines of ‘there’s nothing wrong with [the non-union agreement]’ and ‘you’re reading too much into it’.
But there is plenty ‘wrong’ with McKesson’s fine print including the glaring omission of any pay rates.
One email to staff even stated, ‘had the ANF negotiated this agreement they would have approved it’.
The ANF (Victoria) has written to the Workplace Authority questioning this and other possible deficiencies in the voting process while also challenging the agreement’s ability to meet required standards under current awards.
There are also serious concerns about the lack of transparency and possible number crunching by management throughout the on-again–off-again voting process.
McKesson has made no secret of the fact they are adamantly opposed to UCAs and have belligerently refused to negotiate with the ANF since the beginning.
Another concern is that McKesson management ran the vote and carried out the count. Documents mention an ‘independent scrutineer’ but neither details nor credentials were ever provided.
Nurses have been attempting to organise by phone and email and hope to establish NSWNA’s first ‘cyber-branch’ at the call centre later this month.
‘Organising the McKesson ‘workplace’ represents a whole new set of problems and possibilities for the NSWNA and the ANF,’ said Brett.
‘We need to make sure employers in these new ‘virtual workplaces’ don’t take advantage of vulnerable working mothers who are struggling to balance work and family.
‘There is no doubt working from home is an attractive option for working parents but phone triage nurses shoulder huge responsibilities. Adequate representation and workplace protection is essential for these nurses in such isolated working conditions.
‘There are already reports of high staff turnover and retention problems at McKesson call centres. If they want to secure their place in the Australian clinical landscape and become an employer of choice they will need to lift their game and listen to the needs of nurses.
‘The NSWNA and the ANF are working closely with triage nurses to determine what those needs are and to develop policies and practices to deal with them.’
All nurses working at McKesson should contact the NSWNA or the ANF to update their details so they can be kept informed and access support.
Information about the McKesson call centres
The National Health Call Centre Network was established in 2006 following a COAG (Council of Australian Governments) agreement to implement a nationwide triage call centre, designed to relieve pressure on the nation’s struggling emergency departments.
McKesson Asia Pacific, an offshoot of McKesson Corp – the 18th richest corporation in the US, won the estimated $220 million contract to run the National Health Call Centre Network in July last year. The National Health Call Centre Network is a national body operating call centres in each state. In NSW it operates as Healthdirect.