Nurses’ rights at work NSWNA 61st Annual Conference

Fighting the federal government;s attack on nurses’ rights at work was the focal point of this year’s Annual Conference, held 19-21 July at Randwick Racecourse. More than 400 delegates, representing 51,000 nurses throughout NSW, discussed the implications and threats posed by the federal government`s new IR laws. `Howard’s IR laws must go` was the resounding message from conference delegates.

Great work in a challenging environment

NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes opened the conference with reflection on the achievements of the Association, in the face of an ever more challenging industrial and professional environment.

‘No one in our membership or the community can have missed the fact that the last 12 months has seen industrial relations law changes as the big agenda item for everyone. For unions like the NSWNA, it has absorbed an enormous part of our time, energy and resources, in addition to maintaining the normal functioning and workload of the union,’ Brett told Conference delegates.

He pointed out the large numbers of nurses who had been dragged into the new federal system with the passing of the laws.

‘We believe that more than 17,000 of our members are caught by the use of corporations powers under the constitution and are therefore subject to the new WorkChoices legislation.’

Brett acknowledged the leadership of the Iemma government in converting public hospital nurses into crown employees in order to protect them from the federal laws. He also noted that even state Liberal party members had been promising to maintain this position, although this was to be treated with caution.

‘This is a promise in conflict with Liberal party philosophy and in stark contrast to how the federal Liberal National Coalition has treated its own frontline workers.’

Brett sees the pay increases for private hospital and aged care nurses during the year as a source of satisfaction for the Association.

‘Ninety-five per cent of private hospital members achieved a pay increase that will bring them in line with public health system members’ rate of pay. Aged care nurses received their second 6% pay increase from 30 March 2006 from the arbitrated case in the NSW Industrial Relations Commission held during 2004, bringing the total pay increase to 25% for aged care nurses since 2003.’

Under the new federal laws, aged care will be the Association’s initial major challenge, said Brett.

‘The aged care sector is our most vulnerable sector for attack from employers reclassifying our members to non-nurse categories and generally undermining the role of nurses.’