Not happy, John

Wollongong, Shellharbour nurses send a message to the PM

When John Howard came to Wollongong to spruik his case for ‘economic reform’, local nurses delivered the Prime Minister
a message of their own: your ‘reforms’ are bad for nursing and the health system.

The PM’s visit prompted Wollongong and Shellharbour Hospital nurses to vote to stop work for a few hours to attend a protest meeting.

Around 100 nurses walked out of Wollongong hospital and headed down Crown Street to the City Beach Function Centre where Howard was addressing a $200-a-head Liberal Party fundraiser.

They were met by other Wollongong nurses who came into town on their day off, and about 50 nurses from Shellharbour Hospital – almost half the nursing staff.

The rally grew to over 700 people as teachers, public servants, police, emergency service personnel and steelworkers joined the nurses.

Shellharbour nurse Angela Pridham spoke to the crowd, warning that the government’s new industrial laws would severely damage the health system.

It is a view shared by Wollongong cancer care nurse Melissa Jackson, who told The Lamp why she voted to stop work for the protest.

‘I honestly believe the proposed changes are going to cripple our health care system, so there’s no way I wouldn’t have been at the rally,’ Melissa said.

‘We found out on the Friday that Mr Howard was coming to town on the Tuesday. We already had a union meeting arranged for Friday, which voted unanimously to stop work on Tuesday while leaving skeleton staffing on the wards to ensure patient safety.

‘It was a surprisingly good turnout considering it was organised at the last minute.’

Melissa said she already found working conditions too tough for a full-time rotating roster in cancer care.

‘I had burnout and resigned about five years ago, and came back part-time.

‘If they take away any of the rights we’ve worked so hard for, who in their right mind would become a nurse?

‘If Mr Howard makes it any easier for employers to take away any of our conditions I believe nurses will leave the industry in droves.
‘Four out of our 51 conditions will potentially be the only ones to stay. Of course we don’t yet know how many of the other 47 conditions will be removed from us, but let’s face it – if these changes come in we are not going to have a lot of power to negotiate.

‘We already find it difficult to stand up for our health care system, and each day it gets harder and harder to do our job of caring for patients.

‘What is the sense in allowing an employer to take away financial incentives such as penalty rates for working on weekends or at night?

‘You are not going to feel too great about, say, working on a Saturday night and being paid the same as someone who works on a Monday morning.’