Nursing home gains union collective agreement

Union-negotiated agreement protects and improves conditions

Nurses have given overwhelming support to the first union-negotiated collective agreement at Calvary Retirement Community, Cessnock.

Ninety-six per cent of nurses voted in favour of the three-year agreement which retains all major award conditions, introduces paid parental leave and provides a 10.5% pay increase over the next two years.

Calvary Retirement Community, Cessnock, is owned and operated by Little Company of Mary Health Care which provides hospital, aged care and community services in several states. The Cessnock facility was formerly Allandale Aged Care Facility, a State government nursing home.

The new agreement applies to about half the nurses at the Cessnock facility who were under the private sector Nursing Homes Award. The rest were employed before privatisation and remain under the public health system award.

The facility has 216 nursing home beds and a recently opened 80-bed hostel.

NSW Nurses’ Association branch president Bronwyn Downing said nurses are happy the agreement protects conditions despite new federal industrial laws.

Under recent WorkChoices legislation, industry awards are being phased out and may be replaced by site-specific collective agreements or individual contracts.

‘The staff are pretty pleased with the result, especially getting paid maternity and paternity leave for the first time,’ Bronwyn said.

‘We get reasonable wage increases and if the Fair Pay Commission grants a higher increase we get the higher amount’.

Bronwyn said workers and management got a better understanding of each other’s positions through the negotiations. ‘It shows you can get a good result if both sides go into the negotiations with an open mind and a constructive attitude,’ she said.

Other achievements include agreement for nursing staff of the newly opened hostel to be covered by the agreement, an improved definition of Assistant in Nursing and introduction of reasonable workload principles.

‘The reasonable workloads principles should provide the basis for settling any problems about understaffing if they arise,’ she said.

The NSWNA’s involvement in negotiations for the agreement included educating members about the new industrial relations system.

Ten new members joined the Association during the negotiation process.

CEO Ted Coupe said Calvary Retirement Community took the initiative to negotiate a union collective agreement as a way of offering certainty to employees and management.

Key features of collective agreement

The union collective agreement and associated memorandum of understanding for Calvary Retirement Community, Cessnock, includes:

  • 10.5% wage increase between July 2007 and July 2009. If the Fair Pay Commission grants a higher increase, the difference will be paid;
  • Nine weeks’ paid maternity leave and one week for the partner;
  • A fair disputes procedure, consultation mechanisms regarding change and a fair process prior to termination;
  • AIN Certificate IV Team Leader allowance of $5 per shift;
  • Subject to a selection process, AIN Certificate IV payment of course fees;
  • Endorsed Enrolled Nurse classification structure and wage rates;
  • Calvary to pay for initial criminal checks for existing employees and to arrange for future checks (which attracts a group discount);
  • Calvary to pay for influenza vaccinations;
  • Retention of RDOs for full-time employees;
  • Principles for reasonable workloads;
  • Principles for medication management;
  • AINs will not to be used to replace laundry and kitchen staff;
  • Requests for leave and payroll errors to be resolved in a reasonable timeframe.

Maternity leave a boon for Natalie

AiN Natalie Bentley became the first Calvary nurse to benefit from the introduction of paid maternity leave – even though she was not strictly entitled to it.

Daughter Chelsea-Lee was born several weeks before the collective agreement came into effect, so Natalie was resigned to a brief period of unpaid leave.

But when she returned to work she learned that, as an act of good faith, management would grant her the nine weeks’ paid leave.

‘I was quite shocked when they told me I could take paid leave. It was great news, I still can’t believe it,’ Natalie said.

‘I have had three kids and this is the first time I’ve benefited from paid maternity leave.

‘I was working casual at other homes when I had my first two children so I missed out on paid maternity leave for them. I had given up all hope of getting paid leave for Chelsea-Lee as well.

‘I’m grateful that the union took up my case, and that management agreed to grant me the benefit even though the agreement hadn’t come into operation.’