Tuesday 24th March 2009
You can imagine the shock a Tamworth nurse felt when she received a $38,000 bill from her employer, the Hunter New England Area Health Service (HNEAHS).
The nurse, who had been working as a CNC at Tamworth Health Support Services since 2004, was stunned when the HNEAHS billed her $38,000 for overpaid wages.
The HNEAHS claimed she should have been paid at the lesser RN Year 8 rate for overtime worked during that period.
After referring the matter to their debt recovery department, it appears the health service intended to commence legal proceedings against her to recover the alleged overpayment.
To rub salt into the wound, the HNEAHS then alleged she was also overpaid for ‘in charge of shift’ allowances as well.
‘It was a nerve-wracking experience. Thank goodness for the NSWNA, they were amazing,’ said the nurse, who preferred to remain anonymous.
The Association argued in the IRC that it was both contrary to the Award and unfair, according to the Industrial Relations Act, for an employee to be paid a lower rate of pay during periods of overtime.
Furthermore, it was argued that even if the money was paid to the nurse by mistake, a previous High Court ruling makes it clear that such monies may not need to be repaid if they were paid voluntarily, or the recipient changed his/her circumstances in reliance upon the money.
In the face of these arguments, the HNEAHS dramatically reduced the size of their claim and entered into negotiations with the Association.
‘It was very stressful. At one stage the health service was talking about trade-offs when, really, I only wanted to keep what was, in effect, mine,’ she told The Lamp.
‘I am so grateful for the Union’s fast and efficient support. It can get so hard, I’m past fighting and I was emotionally exhausted – but the union officers continued to fight on my behalf’.
‘I highly recommend all nurses maintain their membership – you just never know when you’ll need the support.’
NSWNA Assistant General Secretary Judith Kiejda said any members who received demands from their employer for the repayment of money paid to them by mistake should contact the Association immediately.