Preserving family life and nursing standards – October 2005

NSWNA fights to help nurses maintain a work and family balance and to preserve standards in EN training.

For some months now there has been an intense public debate about the federal government’s proposed workplace changes. The Howard government has vigorously pushed the line that there is an ongoing need for reform in the workplace.

Its focus has been on increasing productivity and flexibility for the employer. Hence we have proposals to make it easier to dismiss workers, for the removal of conditions such as penalty rates, RDOs and reasonable workloads from awards and to tilt the playing field in favour of employers with the spread of individual contracts.

There has been no word from the government on how this will impact on families. In this month’s Lamp we look at the dramatic changes that have occurred in the past 20 years in the make-up of the family itself and the incredible pressures of work that have come to bear on families.

Longer hours, more irregular hours and unpredictable hours and the intensification of work have become the norm. There are more women in the workforce, mothers are returning to work earlier, there are growing numbers of dependents and there are yawning gaps in support and care.

Ultimately it’s all about control of hours and who has that control. In the present environment the only brake on long and unsocial hours are award and agreement provisions. The union movement has been putting forward solutions to the ‘work/life collision’ based on what our members have been telling us their needs are: longer paid maternity leave, the right to part-time work on re-entry to the workforce, more flexible leave to care for dependents and career breaks.

Existing award conditions like penalty rates, annual leave and RDOs also act as a disincentive to family-hostile hours. If you take away these conditions from the no-disadvantage test – as the government is planning to do – then you remove the brake on hours. If we as a society are fair dinkum about getting the right balance between work and looking after our families, this is not the way to go.

Preserving enrolled nurse training standards

Another area where nurses need to be vigilant is in the area of enrolled nurse education.

Currently, the Community Services and Health Industry Skills Council is undertaking a project to develop national qualifications and competency standards for enrolled nurses within the National Health Training Package. We support the establishment of a national qualification which will provide uniform standards in Australia and improve mobility in employment for nurses between the different states.

We also support a qualification that maintains the integrity of enrolled nursing and the profession of nursing.

But we do have concerns about the current process that may lead to lesser standards in nursing, with insufficiently trained enrolled nurses or the emergence of an unregulated, poorly-trained health worker assuming a nurse’s responsibilities.

The Health Training Package contains ‘units of competency’ that make up the qualification. Some of these units may be available to non-nursing workers.

The NSWNA is very concerned about the potential impact on both registered and enrolled nurses working in NSW and the potential consequences for patient safety that may result from the introduction of a generic worker rather than a nurse.

The NSWNA and other state nursing branches of the ANF are drafting a national response that will prioritise the safety of the public and the high standards of the nursing profession.

There are still opportunities and time to influence the outcome of the project. Nurses can make their concerns known (see page 24 for details) before 28 October. It is vital that we do so to prevent any result that is detrimental to enrolled nurse education and the nursing workforce.