O’Farrell Has A Fight On His Hands

Members from Bankstown and Westmead Children's Hospital
Members from Bankstown and Westmead Children’s Hospital

More than 40 NSWNA branches voted to stop work and protest against the new workplace laws, alongside 12,000 other public sector workers.It was wet and wild but it didn’t dampen the resolve of 12,000 public sector workers who massed outside the NSW Parliament to send a message to the new Premier Barry O’Farrell: hands off our workplace rights.

The day after the new laws were passed on 14 June, nurses, firefighters, police officers, ambulance drivers and other public sector workers made it clear to the new government that they have a fight on their hands.

Nurses were very prominent after more than 40 Sydney metropolitan NSWNA branches voted to stop work and join the protest.

Overwhelming community support for public sector workers

A Your Source poll, commissioned by Unions NSW, has found 78.65% of respondents do not think the State Government has a mandate to remove the rights of nurses, ambulance officers, teachers and firefighters to have wages and conditions determined by the independent umpire, the NSW Industrial Relations Commission.

On the question of whether nurses, ambulance officers, firefighters and teachers and are overpaid, 93.82% disagreed.

The survey also asked if respondents agreed with a 2.5% cap on pay rises for these public sector workers. 59.83% disagreed.

Unions NSW Secretary, Mark Lennon said: ‘Since we launched our campaign against Barry O’Farrell’s unfair public sector workplace laws, we’ve been overwhelmed by the response from nurses, teachers, firefighters and other public sector workers.

‘It’s heartening for the state’s 400,000 public sector workers to know that the public is onside and believe they deserve first-rate workplace conditions.’

Vi Hoang, an RN at Bankstown Hospital, was at the rally and says the laws will exacerbate the critical staffing problems in hospitals.

‘I think it’s really unfair of Barry O’Farrell to do this. It’s not just affecting nurses but all public sector workers. We’re trying to make the community a better place and this is really going to affect the community as well,’ she said.

Vi says she has a special sympathy for ADHC (Ageing Disability and Home Care) nurses who will be the first group of nurses to negotiate their award under the new laws.

‘ADHC nurses are really important in our society and they look after people who are much harder to take care of. By not giving them a fair go with these laws, and if nurses decide to leave because of it, it’s really going to show in the community. Everyone will lose.’

This is a test for nurses

O’Bray Smith, NSWNA Councillor and mental health nurse at the Concord Centre for Mental Health, addressed the crowd on behalf of the NSWNA.

‘It was really empowering to be there on that stage and look at out that sea of faces. It was encouraging as well in that there are so many who are willing to fight. It was particularly inspiring to see so many nurses with their paddle pops and signs – you couldn’t miss them in the crowd,’ she said.

‘Right now there is nowhere for nurses to skimp. Saying these laws are about productivity savings is like giving out bandaids instead of stitches. By not giving us better pay and conditions, O’Farrell will have the biggest shortfall of nurses that will cost the state billions of dollars. That will be the legacy of his government.

O’Bray says ADHC nurses deserve the support of other nurses in the public sector.

‘ADHC nurses may be the first in line to deal with this but we’ll all be there with them. This will be a test for the government to see the power of unions and particularly nurses.’