Redundancies reversed at Forster Private

Nurses’ united stand leads to settlement with Pulse Health

Forster Private Hospital has reversed a move to make six nurses redundant after remaining nurses refused to work extra shifts and overtime and called for their reinstatement.

Pulse Health, which operates the Mid North Coast hospital, announced in February it would make six nurses redundant and cut the hours of a seventh.

This came soon after Forster Private nurses won a difficult but successful campaign to lift their salaries closer to rates paid at nearby hospitals.

A unanimous resolution from the NSWNMA branch at the hospital described Pulse’s decision to make nursing positions redundant as “a direct outcome of the successful bargaining of a new enterprise agreement. This treatment of the nursing staff, which targets the direct and ongoing care of our patients and the community as a whole, has left the branch bewildered and devastated.”

Branch members voted unanimously to work only their contracted hours, and the Association took the dispute to Fair Work Australia.

Within a fortnight of announcing the redundancies Pulse came to an agreement with the Association to reduce the number of redundancies to three – and two of these nurses were immediately brought back as casuals on the same hours.

“All but one of the six nurses originally targeted for redundancy are back at work in the hospital,” said Paul Sandilands, a registered nurse/midwife and secretary of the local branch.  Association General Secretary Brett Holmes praised the Forster Private Hospital branch for their “outstanding solidarity and commitment to their colleagues.”

Pulse Health operates five hospitals in New South Wales and Queensland. Forster Private employs about 90 nurses to care for more than 80 patients. It performs major surgery and includes a high dependency unit and a rehabilitation unit.

Pulse’s refusal to offer Forster Private nurses a fair pay increase forced them to mount a campaign of industrial and community action, which achieved wage rates closer to – but still below – those paid at comparable public and private hospitals in the district.

However, in the fortnight that the first pay increase landed in nurses’ bank accounts the company announced redundancies due to “an excess of contracted nursing hours.”

Paul Sandilands said the claim that the hospital was overstaffed amazed the nurses, who normally worked up to 200 extra hours each month to fill vacancies and other gaps in the roster.

The first sign that Pulse had blundered came within a day of the redundancy announcement, when the company withdrew the redundancy notice against the ward NUM. It had wanted to abolish the position of ward NUM and pass those responsibilities to the DON.

Paul said the first roster produced for the period following the redundancies – March 6 to March 19 – showed the company had badly miscalculated.

“All three nurse unit managers (NUM) and even the director of nursing (DON) were rostered to work on the floors for more than 300 hours in total, and there were still vacant shifts in the roster,” Paul said.

“Under that arrangement the hospital could not have functioned without all the managers working as registered nurses on the floors.

“The company was counting on nurses to pick up extra shifts to cover the shortfalls.

“However our branch members were unanimous in refusing to do the jobs of their fellow nurses who had been made redundant.”

A Fair Work Australia Commissioner convened a Saturday hearing to try to resolve the dispute but no agreement was reached. The following day Pulse requested a meeting with the Association where agreement was finally reached.

Under the agreement the roles of the two nurses made redundant, then re- employed as casuals, are to be reviewed after six months to determine whether they can return to permanent employment.

Meanwhile, the hospital’s Medical Advisory Board (MAB) has predicted a “shift in management attitudes” following a meeting with Pulse Health chairman Stuart James.

MAB chairman Dr Geoff Whitehouse sought the meeting with Mr James to voice the board’s concerns on a number of issues, chiefly the forced redundancies, reported the local newspaper the Great Lakes Advocate.

“I think we will see a shift in attitudes at the hospital to a more community-oriented approach that is in the best interests of patients and the community,” Dr Whitehouse was quoted as saying.