Protecting pay and conditions in aged care

Aged care nurses need a union collective agreement to protect pay and conditions.

Your pay and conditions are under threat

Before Howard’s IR laws took effect, pay and conditions for aged care nurses were contained in a NSW State Award. Your Award provided a safety net of minimum pay rates and working conditions.

Howard’s IR robbed aged care nurses of your Award rights. Your pay and conditions are no longer determined by the Award.

Your current Award conditions are now under WorkChoices and pay and conditions for aged care nurses are contained in what’s called a Notional Agreement Preserving a State Award (NAPSA). It’s a temporary agreement that will be in place until March 2009, or until you agree to something else.

All new agreements are only required have five legislated minimum  conditions! Your previous Award had over 50 conditions.

So if you think you don’t need to worry about pay and conditions because your aged care employer has always paid you fairly OR will be forced to due to nurse shortages – think again!

What you can do

Get to know your current Award/NAPSA – you need to know what it at stake once the safety net is removed.

You need an agreement to protect your conditions

Don’t rely on the conditions in your Award – these will become obsolete by March 2009. Aged care nurses need to negotiate a new agreement that locks in place pay rises and conditions for the term of the Agreement.

But there are five different types of agreements under WorkChoices. Your employer can offer you an AWA (Australian Workplace Agreement) or you can negotiate an employee collective agreement or union collective agreement with the NSWNA.

A union collective agreement is the best chance for a fair pay rise and decent conditions.

The threat of AWAs 

AWAs are the federal government’s individual contracts for workers. They allow employers to undermine collective agreements and leave employees much worse off.

Employers now have the power to:

  • ask workers to sign individual agreements which cut take-home pay and remove family-friendly clauses such as public holiday entitlements, paid maternity leave and shift allowances;
  • make signing an AWA a condition of getting a job or promotion;
  • divide staff by only offering pay rises to those who sign AWAs;
  • sack workers and offer them their jobs back on an AWA that cuts take home pay.

Of the AWAs signed since the new laws came in:

  • more than 20% provide no pay increase at all;
  • 40% got rid of public holiday entitlements;
  • 63% removed penalty rates;
  • all removed at least one award condition.

Conditions slashed, pay reduced by $150 a week under AWAs

Last month, employees at a new nursing home were offered employment on AWAs that slashed protected conditions. The AWAs:

  • Cut out shift loadings
  • Cut out week-end penalties
  • Reduced public holiday penalties
  • Reduced overtime payment
  • Cut out additional annual leave for shift workers
  • Cut out on-call during meal break allowance
  • Cut out in-charge of facility allowance.

Once you sign an AWA, it overrides all previous agreements and Awards – even if there is a current Award or agreement in place. There’s no going back to a collective agreement!

What should I do if I am offered an AWA or Individual Contract?

  1. DON’T SIGN IT!!!
  2. Ask for time to consider the contract – don’t believe management pressure that you must sign straight away, or it’s confidential and you can’t seek advice!
  3. Contact the NSWNA on 1300 367 962.

No union backing with Employee Collective Agreements

Employee Collective Agreements (ECAs) are negotiated between the employer and a group of employees without a union representative as a bargaining agent. It is only required to have the five minimum conditions set out in the Australian Fair Pay and Conditions Standard.

ECAs may contain conditions that entice employees to take up what seems like a good offer, including offering future non union agreements following the initial agreement with worse conditions.


Your best chance for fair pay and conditions

A Union Collective Agreement is negotiated between the employer, the employees and their union.

A Union Collective Agreement (UCA) is your best chance for a fair pay rise and decent conditions. Statistics show that UCAs deliver higher pay increases and better working conditions.

AWAs versus Collective Agreements

Annual wage increases between June 2004 and June 2005

Agreements generally – Annual Wage Increase – 4%
Union collective agreements – Annual Wage Increase -4.3%
Non-union collective agreements – Annual Wage Increase -3.5%
AWAs  – Annual Wage Increase -2.5%

Make sure everybody you work with is a union member. The more members at your workplace, the stronger your bargaining position, the better your pay and conditions.

UCAs also provide access to the independent umpire, the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, which will act to enforce conditions if required. Under ECAs and AWAs, you do not have the protection of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission.