New nursing award

Nursing retains its identity in new Federal Nursing Award

A strong campaign by nurses to retain nursing work in a federal occupational award has paid off with the Australian Industrial Relations Commission issuing a draft nursing award as part of the award modernisation process.

Nursing union members throughout the country pushed hard through annual conference resolutions, a petition to AIRC signed by over 7000 members and letter writing campaigns to maintain a nursing occupational award.

This on-the-ground activity was backed up by a joint advertising campaign conducted by ANF with the Australian Services Union to highlight the threat to some awards in female-dominated occupations including nursing. The ACTU supported the ANF position.

Award modernisation is the latest component of the Federal Government’s remake of the industrial relations landscape that started with the abolition of WorkChoices and continued with the implementation of fairer workplace laws.

The award, if it is retained in its current form, would cover all nurses in the federal system including those in aged care and private hospitals. It would also cover public health system nurses in states such as Victoria which have handed over their IR powers to the Commonwealth.

A good safety net

The new award, combined with the Federal Government’s minimum entitlements enshrined in the new workplace laws, will provide a basic safety net for nurses.

NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes says the AIRC interim decision recognises and values nursing as a profession and respects the history of nursing awards.

‘The Commission’s decision continues the important principle of paying nurses for skills and educational qualifications rather than on the basis of who their employer is,’ he said.

‘The new award provides a good safety net for the profession but if we want to improve pay and conditions we will still have to maintain our strength as a union in order to bargain effectively.’

The next step in the process before the award becomes effective is final submissions for and against the award, due to be heard by the AIRC on 23 February.

The ANF will try to improve the award and make it the best safety net possible. School nurses have been excluded, for no apparent reason, and the ANF has asked that they be included.

Employers are expected to continue their arguments for nurses to be covered by separate industry award such as aged care and private hospital awards.

The AIRC is scheduled to finalise the award early in April and it will come into effect on 1 January 2010.

A broad definition of nursing work

The new draft award has a broad interpretation of nursing work. Under the new award nursing care will mean:

  • Giving assistance to a person who, because of disability, is unable to maintain their bodily needs without frequent assistance;
  • Carrying out tasks that are directly related to the maintenance of a person’s bodily needs where that person, because of disability, is unable to carry out those tasks for themselves; and/or
  • Assisting a registered nurse to carry out the work described in the RN classification description.

The timeline for the Federal Nurses’ Award

  • 23 February 2009: AIRC hears submissions for and against the draft new award.
  • 3 April: Commission issues final award
  • 31 December: Transitional NAPSA awards expire
  • 1 January 2010: New award comes into effect