Our campaigns are paying off for nurses – December 2008

Our achievements in all health sectors during 2008 show the value of being a member of the NSWNA.

Another year draws to a close at the NSWNA and it is a good time to reflect on what we have achieved over the past 12 months and to look ahead to the new challenges before us.

2008 saw a historic victory for the union movement with the Productivity Commission recommending a paid maternity leave scheme for the first time in our history. The financial crisis has raised doubts over its immediate implementation, but it is a victory to establish it as a right.

If, or when, paid maternity leave is implemented, public hospital nurses would be entitled to 18 weeks at the federal minimum wage rate, in addition to the existing 14 weeks they now receive at full rates of pay.

For many nurses in private hospitals and aged care, it will be a new entitlement. Unions will continue to pressure the Rudd Government to deliver what the Productivity Commission recognises is an important reform.

The Federal Government has introduced new laws intended to start operating in mid-2009, that establish a fairer set of ground rules for the workplace. There are aspects of the old laws that remain and unions will continue to push for their removal. But the key fundamentals of the new laws are significantly better. Collective bargaining is preserved and protected. A safety net is intact. Workers have the right to be represented by their union. There is an independent umpire. This is a vindication of the position taken by the union movement in the latter years of the Howard Government and a reward for the army of workers including many nurses who stood up for their rights during the Your Rights At Work campaign.

In our largest sectors it has been a busy year as we build on our past successes.

In the public health system, our campaign for better pay and conditions delivered tangible results. Earlier this year public health system nurses won a 7.95% pay increase over two years in our Fair Conditions Fair Pay Nurses Stay campaign. We have lodged our evidence in the NSW Industrial Relations Commission for improved night duty penalty rates. Early next year we will progress our case for more pay for experienced nurses. These increases are justly deserved and provide some incentive for nurses to remain in a public hospital system that is stretched to the limit.

We are confident that with member involvement similar achievements in private hospitals can be made. We want agreements that deliver pay parity with the public system and reduce the time lag in implementing the pay increase with public hospitals.

In the very difficult WorkChoices environment we managed to sign up a significant number of nursing homes to Union Collective Agreements that delivered demonstrably better outcomes for nurses. The ACS template is likely to be renewed soon.

So, there are a lot of good results coming after a lot of hard work by nurses and midwives throughout NSW. But we do not rest on our laurels.

We will need to continue in the same vein in the new federal IR environment where bargaining will remain at the workplace level. There will not be any return to industry-wide bargaining. We need to maintain our focus on campaigning.

Three years ago we anticipated that we would need the capacity and the resources to be effective as an organising and campaigning union when our Annual Conference authorised the creation of the NursePower fund.

That has proven to be a far-sighted decision that has paid dividends. In the public health system alone, a 7.95% pay increase translates into an extra $500 million a year in nurses’ pockets. By any measurement, that is a good return on investment. The festive season is here again, a moment to savour and to relax with family and friends. You deserve it. Merry Christmas to all!