Nurses Rights at Work Worth Voting For

NSWNA campaign gives nurses a voice.

Over the past few weeks Lamp readers may have noticed NSWNA advertisements featuring everyday nurses – and members of the Association – flooding our TVs, newspapers and airwaves.

The advertisements are part of a wider campaign by the NSWNA to show the negative impact of the Liberal party’s industrial relations laws on nurses – particularly on the nurse shortage and the impact this will have on patient care.

Our campaign comprises TV, radio, billboards and print advertisements that were launched at a time when the rights of nurses are under the greatest threat in 25 years.

The ads feature real-life nurses who are passionate about nursing, passionate about providing quality care to their patients, and passionate about their right to fair pay and conditions.

The radio and TV advertisements reflect the findings of a NSWNA report into the current nursing shortage which shows that removing award protections would drive nurses away from the profession. (The report – Industrial relations policy and the NSW nurse shortage is available on our website www.nswnurses.asn.au.)

According to NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes, NSW IR laws have played a big role in improving the wages and working conditions of public hospital nurses.

‘This could all be lost if public hospital nurses are forced by a State Liberal government to move to the federal system – where they will be subject to John Howard’s IR laws.

‘Under John Howard’s IR system, our penalty rates, pay provisions and our right to use industrial action to improve the health system are all up for grabs, which will have a detrimental impact on attempts to overcome the nurse shortage.’

Brett says the ads have asked the public to vote for nurses to help save their rights and conditions.

‘We are unashamedly defending an industrial relations system that has delivered so much for nurses – especially in recent years. That system was put in place and has been supported by the State Labor government. We are not prepared to risk that system without a fight. It would be a serious dereliction of our duty to nurses and our members.’

Brett says that public hospitals are not the only sector at risk.

‘Given that the public health system sets the benchmark for wages and conditions in private hospitals and aged care, the failure to fight for the current state IR system for public hospital nurses would also be a dereliction of duty to members in these sectors.

‘For this reason, we are asking the consideration of the people of NSW when they vote on 24 March,’ said Brett.

Liberal position is riddled with contradictions

  • Peter Debnam promises to keep public hospital nurses under a state award but at the same time supports the move of industrial relations into the federal system.
  • Peter Debnam has said nothing about protecting the rights of aged care and private hospital nurses who are now exposed to the worst excesses of John Howard’s laws.
  • The NSW Liberals have also said nurses will get better pay if they become the government yet have refused to guarantee the future of the NSW Industrial Relations Commission – the body that has been responsible for giving nurses better pay and conditions over recent years, even when the Labour government rejected our claims.
  • While they say they will give better pay, this stands in stark contrast to comments from a pack of federal Liberal ministers, including Treasurer Peter Costello, Minister for Health Tony Abbot, Minister for Aged Care Santo Santoro and Queensland Federal MP Peter Lindsay, who have all railed against pay rises given by State governments to public sector workers including nurses.

So what motivated 4 hard-working nurses to make such a public message of protest?

Jacintha Symes, RN (casual) at Wollongong Hospital

‘I believe nurses have a right to fair working conditions. If we lose conditions, nurse shortages will just get worse because people just won’t stay.

‘I wouldn’t do night shifts without penalty rates. It stuffs up your body, your family and your social life. It’s just not worth it.’

Sam Jomaa, RN in the ED at St George Hospital

‘If the new IR laws come in and cut out penalty rates, nurses will walk away in droves.

No one will want to work night and week-end shifts.’

Karen Fernance, NUM at Bankstown/Lidcombe Hospital

‘Nurses have had to fight to move the profession forward so we are getting pay and conditions on an equivalent level to other professions that are making a similar contribution. If we move to an IR system where our rights are eroded, nurses will feel devalued.

‘It has been a struggle to achieve pay and conditions we deserve. Without fair pay and conditions, nursing is not an attractive career option for people leaving school.’

Scott Neirinckx, CNS at Ryde Community Mental Health

‘The only way we are going to increase the number of nurses entering the profession is to make nursing more attractive. If IR laws take away penalty rates, nursing will become less attractive and this will drive people away.

‘I have no worries being on the ads because I am proud to be a nurse and I know people respect that … though my football team may give me a bagging.’

Funds for the campaign come from the Nurse Power Fund

  • The fund was created after a long and thorough debate by NSWNA members at the branch level, at Committee of Delegates and at two Annual Conferences.
  • NSWNA delegates voted unanimously to create the fund at the 2005 Annual Conference. • One goal of the fund was to protect nurses from opportunistic or antagonistic policies from political parties at the state or federal level. • The stated method of campaigning was to include tactics used by politicians, including paid advertising.