Minister hears home truths

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Delegates made their feelings about workers’ compensation and the government’s wages policy clear to Health Minister Jillian Skinner at the Association’s annual conference.

It was a speech that lauded the government’s health achievements, although most of those seemed to be improvements won by the NSWNA from the previous Labor government.

But it was Jillian Skinner’s references to the government’s wages policy, and her lack of reference to workers’ compensation changes, that got the greatest response from delegates.

On the issue of wages and conditions Mrs Skinner opened with a conciliatory remark: “I agree with the NSWNA that wages and conditions are important for recruitment and retention,” she said.

She then said nurses could only secure pay rises above the minimum if they met cost-saving measures set by health care employers.

“The policy also provides for increases in wages or other conditions of employment by more than 2.5% where sufficient employer-related cost savings have been achieved to meet increased costs,” she said, and was immediately met with derision and catcalls from the conference floor.

“That’s always been policy, it was never implemented previously,” she replied.

Minister Skinner was vague when asked by Daniel O’Flynn from Westmead hospital whether she would guarantee ratios in the next pay and conditions negotiations.

“Nursing Hours Per Patient Day is a more flexible arrangement than ratios. In my opinion Nursing Hours Per Patient Day is the right model for nurses for the patient load,” she said.

Although NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes specifically asked Mrs Skinner to address recent changes to workers’ compensation in her speech, she pointedly did not.

Brett thanked the Minister for attending the conference, but made it clear that the government’s changes to workers’ comp would be contested vigorously and for as long as it took.

“We have a group of our members at high risk and that is of great concern. It is [incumbent] on us to pick up the pieces. While there are many issues in the health system, we can’t leave behind those hurt at work and then left on the scrapheap.