Nursing awards under threat

Ged Gowin, ANF Assistant Federal Secretary, warns an attack by the federal government on nurses` awards puts our rights and conditions at stake.

One of the things I loved about being a job rep was introducing members to their ‘Nurses’ Award’.

I had a very battered and dog-eared version that I would cart around with me whenever I had to help a member resolve an issue. It was a very powerful tool and gave me lots of confidence to argue a point if I had to, or just to set something straight.

It also helped me give members the power and confidence to sort out their own issues. Arming them with their clause, I would send them into battle, advising them to stay calm, and to politely point out they had the award to back them up. Nine times out of ten they would sort things out themselves, and I wouldn’t hear about it again.

Recently, I have found myself reflecting on those days and of the ‘protection’ I felt working under our award and with my union organisers.

There is much discussion currently about the government’s proposed changes to the industrial relations laws and regulations in this country. And you might think: ‘Oh industrial relations, why would I worry about that?’, and skip over that article in the paper, or tune out at the item on the news.

But, as nurses who are covered by state and federal awards and agreements, you should be concerned and informed about what is happening.

Our very own awards and agreements are at stake – including the very one I so preciously learned and used to protect my colleagues and fellow union members.

The proposed new laws seek to abolish many guaranteed conditions available to nurses through that award system, reducing them down to only six matters and eventually abolishing awards altogether.

For example, on the hit list for our awards are long service leave, notice of termination, skilled-based career paths, and many allowances – to name a few.

And if you are currently covered by a state award, as in NSW, you are not necessarily safe from the changes. There is a move to establish a single industrial relations system that will attempt to nullify state awards and rein in everyone under a federal system.

These changes will threaten our right to have union organisers come on site to help us and to look after our interests. Our right to use tried and true industrial campaigns to argue for better conditions and wages could also be taken away.

It will be easier for employers to sack workers unfairly, and of great concern to us, is the proposed removal of powers from that great Australian institution, the Australian Industrial Relations Commission.

That is only the tip of the iceberg. We are concerned about the changes and their impact on you. So read that article, and listen to that news item, and chat about what can be done to try to stop the changes. Visit your local member of parliament, ring talkback radio, and write letters to newspapers. With the government taking control of the Senate in July, community action is going to be vital – and you, after all, are the community!

Courtesy of the Australian Nursing Journal, April 2005