Thursday 23rd October 2008
Call centre nurses have been denied a Union Collective Agreement by McKesson Asia Pacific.
One of the world’s richest corporations, McKesson, is flatly refusing to negotiate with nurses over pay and conditions at Sydney’s new triage call-centre – raising serious questions about employment standards at the centre.
In July, McKesson Asia Pacific, an offshoot of McKesson Corp, won the estimated $220 million contract to run the National Health Call Centre Network – a national body operating call centres in each the state. In NSW the call centre will operate as Healthdirect.
According to the US Fortune 500 list, McKesson Corp is the 18th richest company in the US, with revenues approaching $120 billion.
Despite its vast fortunes and clear capacity to provide fair pay and conditions, McKesson is refusing to negotiate a union collective agreement with the ANF – despite strong indication from nurses nationwide that this is what they want.
The ANF had written to McKesson requesting a Union Collective Agreement, explaining members’ preferences. McKesson told the ANF it would not negotiate with unions and would push ahead for a national non-union agreement.
McKesson is seeking a non-union agreement covering pay and conditions for staff, which it intends to impose on staff from October this year.
NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes said, ‘We have deep concerns around the welfare of nurses employed by McKesson as it won’t undertake bargaining with the union on behalf of its employees.
‘Evidence clearly shows that employees on non-union agreements ultimately get less money and worse conditions than workers on Union Collective Agreements,’ he said.
‘McKesson is clearly taking advantage of the residual WorkChoices laws to quash nurses’ workplace rights at their call centres.’
When the Sydney centre is fully operational it is estimated that 150 RNs will be employed to staff the triage phones – handling an estimated 650,000 calls from NSW residents each year – with more nurses expected to be employed once the planned mental health line is operational later this year.
‘We expect that most of the triage nurses will be working from home by phone – and are effectively isolated – so it is more important than ever they are supported by a collective voice through a Union Collective Agreement.
‘The 2007 Federal Election was largely fought around the issue of WorkChoices, including the right of employees to have their choice of representation recognised by their employers. It is very disappointing to see a company proceeding as if the Australian electorate did not make their views clear in relation to fairness in the workplace,’ said Brett.
McKesson has existing call centres in the ACT, Western Australia, Northern Territory and Victoria, where UCAs and AWAs have recently expired. Staff in South Australia (where McKesson recently took over a call centre) have already been asked to sign contracts directly with McKesson. Employees at the other state centres are expected to be similarly approached soon.
The National Health Call Centre Network was established in 2006 following a COAG (Council of Australian Governments) agreement to implement a nationwide call centre designed to relieve pressure on the nation’s struggling emergency departments.
Former NSW Health Minister Reba Meagher, who last month opened Healthdirect – the NSW component of the national service, said a recent survey found only 34% of people presenting at emergency departments needed hospital care.
She said Healthdirect would use ‘highly experienced nurses to offer high quality advice on the best course of action and access to services for the phone-in patients’.
Unfortunately for nurses, McKesson appears to have no intention of offering the same quality of workplace support and advice to them.
As The Lamp went to print, Victorian nurses employed by McKesson have voted to take industrial action in October to fight against the corporation’s non-union agreement offer. Next month’s Lamp will have a full update of the situation.