Rights at work at the heart of private hospital nurses’ claim

Private hospital nurses are seeking the same rates of pay, and the same on-call and in-charge allowances as public hospital nurses in talks just begun with employers covering almost 100 private hospitals throughout NSW.

Private hospital nurses are seeking a 14.7% pay rise over two years and eight months to bring them in line with public hospital rates. They are also seeking paid maternity leave, fair and safe workloads and a continuing edu-cation allowance and study leave – conditions that now exist in the public sector award.

The claim has been put to employers after widespread consultation with private hospital members. The claim is shown in the box below.

Howard provides the fog

The uncertain climate created by the federal government’s new laws have clouded the negotiations. Neither the commencement date nor the details of all the proposed legislation have been made public.

The legal enforceability of workplace conditions is vital in these talks with employers, says NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes. He says many of the conditions that private nurses have already won or now seek are not protected by law under the federal government’s new WorkChoices legislation.

‘In fact they will be prohibited by law from being included in an award or enterprise agreement. The Association, after receiving legal advice, will seek to have these conditions protected in a legally enforceable document called a “deed”,’ he said.

Brett Holmes says the private hospital employers’ response will be a test of their sincerity towards their employees in the new environment created by the federal government.

‘This is not a greedy claim. Private hospital nurses are not asking for any more than what other employers have agreed to. The employer of 39,000 public hospital nurses agreed to this amount of pay and these conditions. Now nurses in private hospitals want the same.’

As The Lamp went to press, an initial meeting has been held where NSWNA officers outlined members’ claims to employer representatives.

Private hospital nurses demand equal pay for equal work
Overwhelmingly, private hospital nurses have said they want to be granted the same pay rates and conditions for doing the same work as their public hospital nursing colleagues. Private hospital nurses are currently paid significantly less than public hospital nurses. Private hospital nurses want a 14.7% increase over the two years eight months of the award period.

The following table shows the current difference between private and public hospital nurses’ award rates of pay:

Nurse Classification Public Hospital Rate per annum Private Hospital Rate per annum Loss to Private Hospital Nurse during 2005
NUM Full time (Level 1) $73,252 $69,158 $4,094
RN full time (Year 8) $58,396 $55,132 $3,264
RN part time – 24 hour per week (Year 8) $36,882 $34,820 $2,062
EN Full time (Thereafter) $39,913 $37,682 $2,231
AiN Full time (Thereafter) $32,796 $30,964 $1,832

Notes: Calculated from 1 January 2005 to 31 December 2005, assuming no additional increase in the Private Hospital Award rate this year. Rates do not include any penalty rates. This calculation does not include above-award payments. These rates are based on the award rates for morning shift and the loss for a private hospital nurse increases substantially if they have worked shiftwork.

9 claims in the private hospital nurses’ rights campaign

  1. No AWAs
  2. Pay parity with public hospital nurses including for ENs with medication endorsment
  3. Protection of existing conditions in legally-enforceable documents
  4. Rights for NSWNA delegates
  5. Legally enforceable right to a reasonable workload
  6. 10-hour breaks between shifts
  7. Paid parental leave
  8. Continuing education allowance and study leave
  9. Increased in-charge and on-call allowance rates.

Newcastle Private nurses stand firm
‘Parity and protection of existing rights.’

‘We work just as hard as our colleagues across the carpark at John Hunter Hospital. We have the same training, do the same work and we want the same pay,’ said president of the NSWNA Newcastle Private Hospital branch, Lynette Huckstadt.
‘If management won’t agree to our claim then nurses here are going to walk to the public sector because they can’t afford to work without fair pay and conditions.’

The NSWNA Newcastle Private Hospital branch is one of almost 100 private hospital branches across NSW currently engaged in negotiations with their employers to achieve a new agreement on wages and conditions.

Parity of pay and conditions with public hospital nurses is a burning issue for nurses at Newcastle Private Hospital. ‘The doctors, even the patients, are shocked when they hear we are paid less than our colleagues across the carpark,’ said Lynette.

‘We want to see our existing rights protected in the new claim. It would be the last straw to go backwards, to lose what we’ve fought so hard for.

‘We work hard and we are asking our employer NIB to agree to our claim before the end of the year so that it can be endorsed before Howard’s IR legislation kicks in. Once that happens, we’ll be stripped bare if we’re not covered by the award,’ she said.