Nurses’ message of protest hits the airwaves

Three Sydney nurses fronted the TV cameras to debate how John Howard`s assault on industrial law will impact on working people such as nurses. Channel Nine’s Business Sunday interviewed St George Hospital nurses Jodie Bancroft and Coral Levett, and Nine’s A Current Affair spoke to Lucille McKenna from Palm Grove nursing home in Narraweena. The Lamp talked to Jodie, Coral and Lucille about their interviews.

Lucille McKenna, Director of Nursing at Palm Grove Nursing Home in Narraweena:
A Current Affair interviewed a few people for the program, not just nurses. They had Mike Carlton from 2UE who was very vocal in support of workers.

I thought, here’s a chance to make some points about politicians who make decisions to take rights and conditions and income away from workers while not giving anything up themselves.

I talked about the likely impact of John Howard’s new laws on aged care nursing. I think that workers who aren’t politically aware and haven’t taken an interest in what John Howard is proposing, just don’t have an understanding of what might happen to them.

I’m worried that under the new system, so many workers particularly AINs who often have limited education and speak English as a second language, would be expected to negotiate their own AWA or individual workplace agreement.

We could have a divided workforce where new workers are put under an AWA while the rest stay under current award conditions which will gradually be eroded over time as people leave and new people come on board. It will be a very difficult situation if people doing the same job in the same nursing home are getting different rates of pay.

The government might try and tie Commonwealth funding for aged care to the offering of workplace agreements to our staff. They’ve done it in the tertiary sector and quite possibly they would do it to us.

We are very vulnerable in aged care. The federal government started to tie funding increases to various conditions last year. They could make it a condition of federal funding that workers be ‘offered’ AWAs and they wouldn’t need to pass a law, they could do it overnight.

Most nurses may think the union will be able to look after them and fix it – they always have in the past. But it may be too late once the laws come in.

It is really important that the word gets out and people understand how important it is to protest, and to protest now.

I’ve been in aged care for 30 years. I went there because I could get working hours that suited me. The attraction of aged care for most nurses has been the ability to get permanent shifts and to get shifts that suit you.

If penalty rates disappear and we have to go to a seven-day roster, I won’t be able to attract people who want to work weekends. They probably will go back to the public system where the wages are higher.

Jodie Bancroft, Nurse Educator at St George Hospital:

I agreed to speak up because this is a worrying time for us nurses. We don’t know exactly what’s going to happen to our futures with John Howard’s new laws. I read the government’s WorkChoices booklet which had a lot of worrying things for us.

Our state award could disappear and we could lose some of the conditions that we and our union have fought really hard for.
I mean conditions we are entitled to such as penalty rates for after-hours work and maternity leave. Our 14 weeks paid maternity leave is a good thing especially in the current nursing shortage, because it helps keep nurses in the profession.

Coral Levett, Manager Nurse Education at St George Hospital:

I believe John Howard’s proposed changes will have a number of serious impacts on the nursing profession. Some of the award conditions we have now will not be guaranteed in the suggested transitional federal agreement that the government is pushing.

If public hospital nurses move to the federal system, things that could be ‘bargained away’ include the reasonable workloads clause that allows nurses to have a legally enforceable right to a reasonable workload.

Under our award, nurses get an in-charge shift allowance if they take on the extra responsibility of being in charge of a particular shift. That allowance would be up for grabs if our employer decided they wanted to ‘bargain’ it away.