NSWNA hits the road fighting for nurses’ rights

The NSWNA recently took to the road on a Southern Roadshow to visit members across the Greater Southern and invited them to be part of the fight to overturn the federal government`s WorkChoices legislation.

NSWNA Assistant General Secretary Judith Kiejda said the NSW Nurses’ Association is committed to overturning the WorkChoices legislation. ‘We will work from sunrise to sunset to make working conditions and pay better for nurses,’ she said.

The NSWNA officers who embarked on the Southern Roadshow 29 May–2 June worked during the day visiting nurses working in hospitals and nursing homes and attending community meetings in the evening.

Over the week, the Association visited 180 members at Milton, Bega, Batemans Bay, Moruya, Queanbeyan and Shoalhaven public hospitals, seven nursing homes and one private hospital. Twelve new members were also keen to come on board and be part of the action.

The Roadshow was a great opportunity for the NSWNA to talk to nurses about conditions, pay and other issues but unlike other workplace visits, it was the federal government’s WorkChoices legislation that was the hot topic of discussion consuming everyone we met – nurses and members of the public alike.

Concern growing in the community
The Roadshow was carried out in conjunction with Unions NSW and the big orange ‘Your Rights at Work’ bus travelled along the same route. While NSWNA staff visited nurses, Unions NSW held stalls outside popular shopping areas and spoke to the public about the legislation and encouraged them to attend the local community meeting or function.

People who have already been affected by WorkChoices shared their experiences at the evening community meetings. These discussions highlighted union fears that a number of young people have been the first to feel the impact of the legislation, with many employers taking advantage of their lack of experience and inability to negotiate.

The attendance of the community meetings was a heartening sign that members of the community understand the extent of the threats posed by the new legislation.

Supporting employers who do the right thing by workers
Jenny Butcher is a teacher in the Milton-Ulladulla area and Chairperson of the Your Rights at Work Community Group, formed after a group of local residents watched the sky channel address on 15 November 2005 at the local golf club and were ‘stunned’ by what they learned about the WorkChoices legislation.

‘We put a notice in the local paper saying that anyone concerned about the new laws is welcome to attend a meeting at the local school,’ said Jenny.

The group met and discussed the legislation and ideas to assist in the campaign – their first task was to educate people in the community about the changes.

Three representatives from the community group attended the Unions NSW training camp, where they learnt more about the legislation and about campaign techniques.

The group’s latest campaign was inspired by many young people working in retail and hospitality who are being forced to sign individual contracts that exclude conditions such as penalty and overtime rates. Community members have committed to shopping at businesses that support fair pay and conditions and do not exploit their workers.

Jenny said, ‘We will place signage in their store window that says they are a business which supports rights at work. This will help inform customers about where they want to spend their money.’

At the meeting, Christine Miller, RN at Milton Hospital, said, ‘I will make the effort to travel the extra distance to a different bakery or café, if need be, to make sure I am shopping at businesses that support fair pay and conditions.’