Nurses fight to keep their own awards

Nursing awards will have to be defended in the new modernisation process because of a concerted campaign by a number of aged care employers, and supported by some other unions, to establish a generic aged care industry award according to the ANF.

The award modernisation process is intended to rationalise and simplify all awards that will form part of a national IR system. This system is scheduled to begin in January 2010.

In the initial round of consultations to determine ‘Priority Awards’, the ANF sought a single Nursing Industry Award as the best safety net for nurses. However, this was strongly opposed by employers and other unions with interests in health, who argued for an Aged Care Award that included nursing.

The ANF was successful in having both nursing and aged care removed from the ‘Priority Award List’ to enable further discussion between the parties.

A Nursing Industry Award – as proposed by the ANF – would replace 50 federal awards and 50 ‘Notional Agreements Preserving State Awards’.

In October 2008, the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) will announce a second group of industries and occupations for award modernisation and it is highly likely that nursing in some form will be in the list. These Awards are to be complete by April 2009.

ANF Secretary Ged Kearney says it is probable that the AIRC will prefer to make new awards covering all employees in a particular industry rather than by occupation.

‘However, it is a helpful argument that Nursing Awards have traditionally existed in the federal system. Nurses work across a number of settings and in the past awards have recognised this. Nurses strongly identify with one another regardless of the sector in which they work,’ she said.

‘Standard industrial and professional issues – many of which are included in nursing awards – such as common working conditions, classification structures, recognition of service, workload measures and medication administration, bond nurses together and assist in maintaining standards of care.’

Sign the petition to help save nursing awards
The ANF is circulating a petition calling on the AIRC to reject the push by other unions and employers to scrap nursing awards and to ensure that nurses’ minimum wages and employment conditions are protected by nursing awards. The petition is available from www.anf.org.au.

Low paid $21/week better off, thanks to your union membership
Low paid workers are to get a $21.66 pay rise after a decision by the Fair Pay Commission. About 1.1 million workers are affected by the decision.

The federal minimum wage will rise by 4.15% to $543.78 a week to take effect in October.

Workers who will benefit from the rise include cleaners, retail and hospitality staff, child care workers, and farm labourers.

The ACTU had called for a wage rise of $26 a week. Employer groups argued that wage rises should be capped at $10 a week.

In its decision, the commission noted that increasing minimum wages would have only a minor impact on wages and inflation for the economy as a whole.

NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes said the increase will do something to help low-paid working families deal with spiralling petrol, housing and grocery costs.

‘Low wage earners get this sort of wage increase because the union movement goes into bat for them every year,’ he said.

‘Every union member, including nurses, should take pride that our collective strength can deliver such a result for those least able to fight for it.’

Building Commission black spot

One glaring black spot on Labor’s IR record so far is the lack of commitment to abolishing the Howard Government’s Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).

Julia Gillard is on record as saying the Rudd Government would delay the abolition of the ABCC until January 2010.

This position has been slammed by ACTU President Sharan Burrow.

‘Under the powers that the Howard Government gave the ABCC, ordinary building workers can be forced into secret interrogations where they have no right to silence and must answer questions or face jail.

‘The failure of a worker to answer the questions of an ABCC officer is punishable by six months’ imprisonment.

‘ABCC laws also mean that ordinary workers can also face tens of thousands of dollars in personal fines over industrial matters.’

Despite the change in government, the ABCC remains active in persecuting building union activists.

A Victorian CFMEU official, Noel Washington, is to appear in court in August for refusing to attend an interview with the ABCC to reveal the details of a discussion that took place at a union meeting in 2007.

Stop stalling and get rid of WorkChoices 

A Galaxy poll commissioned by the ACTU has found 73% of voters believe there should be no further delay in improving workers’ protection from unfair dismissal, while 69% oppose a delay in restoring workers’ rights to bargain collectively.

Among Labour voters, 89% oppose delays in laws to improve protection from unfair dismissal and 85% oppose a delay in restoring workers’ rights to collective bargaining.

ACTU President Sharan Burrow said it was worrying that key elements of WorkChoices have remained in place so long since last year’s election.

‘This poll contains an important message from the Australian public to the business community: there can be no delay in getting rid of WorkChoices and restoring a fair-go in the workplace,’ she said.

‘This is what most Australians voted for last year, and they clearly expect action as soon as possible. Business needs to listen to these voters and stop lobbying the Government to delay or undermine what was promised last year.’

Skilled migration scheme tightened to stop abuse
The much-abused s457 visa scheme is under review by Federal Immigration Minister Chris Evans.

The Rudd Government says it will introduce new laws to help prevent the exploitation of temporary skilled foreign workers and ensure the wages and conditions of Australian workers are not undercut.

$19.6 million was committed in the last Federal budget to improve the processing and compliance of the temporary skilled migration program.

Proposed new immigration laws would ban employers from using workers on s457 visas to break strikes or to influence enterprise bargaining negotiations.

Under the proposed new laws officers investigating visa breaches would have powers similar to workplace inspectors. Employers who break the laws could face 10 years imprisonment or up to $110,000 in fines.

Industrial Relations Commissioner Barbara Deegan is due to report on the tempo-rary skilled migration program in October.