Strong benchmark for aged care agreements

New template agreement secures wages and conditions for many aged care nurses.

The NSWNA has finished negotiations on a template union collective agreement that could protect the pay and conditions of more than half of NSWNA members working in aged care.

According to NSWNA Assistant General Secretary Judith Kiejda, the template union collective agreement with HSU and the Aged & Community Services Association of NSW & ACT (ACS) locks in pay and conditions for the term of the agreement and improves existing conditions for aged care nurses.

ACS is the employer organisation that represents around 300 of the not-for-profit aged care providers.

ACS is working with the NSWNA and HSU to help their members make a simple transition from the NSW award system to the new decentralised bargaining system under WorkChoices.

‘Our motivation is to help establish a consensus on agreed minimum standards in an enforceable document that covers the maximum number of members,’ said Judith.

If taken up by all employers who are members of ACS, the ACS template agreement will set a good standard for agreements in aged care.

Why do we need to negotiate an Agreement?

Until WorkChoices took effect in March 2006, the pay and conditions of nurses in aged care were contained in the Nursing Homes &c. Nurses’ (State) Award. This was the legal document that delivered the pay increases and better conditions to aged care nurses. It provided a safety net of minimum pay rates and working conditions.

WorkChoices abolished the award. Now the pay and conditions of aged care nurses are contained in what’s called a Notional Agreement Preserving a State Award (NAPSA). This is a temporary agreement that will be in place until March 2009.

If no other agreement is in place when the NAPSA expires, aged care nurses may be forced to accept an agreement that contains only the five minimum standards set out in the Workplace Relations Act 1996. The previous award had 50 conditions.

‘For this reason, aged care nurses need to negotiate a new collective agreement that locks in pay rises and conditions for the term of the agreement,’ said Judith.

‘A Union Collective Agreement (UCA) is the best chance for a decent pay rise and the conditions that allow aged care nurses to balance work and family life. It is proven that the wages and conditions achieved under a Union Collective Agreement are significantly better than under other types of agreements.

‘With the help of the NSWNA, members are in a much better position to bargain with their employers,’ she said.

7% pay increase

The template agreement preserves the majority of nurses’ existing employment conditions in aged care and delivers a minimum pay increase of 3.5% per year.

The agreement also provides significant improvements in conditions such as the introduction of nine weeks’ paid maternity and adoption leave. It also increases the rate at which long service leave accumulates after 10 years’ service.

Other improvements include:

  • Recognition and a pay scale for Endorsed Enrolled Nurses;
  • Increased entry salary for newly qualified Registered Nurses,

making aged care more attractive to new graduates;

  • Updating the definition of an AIN with provision for an AIN to be team leader;
  • A requirement that RNs be given hand-over time at the beginning of their shift;
  • Staff cannot be forced to work overtime in unreasonable circumstances such as when they have family responsibilities.
  • Long-term casuals also have the right to apply for their position to be made permanent.

Conditions are legally enforceable

In the award, afternoon shift penalties applied if a nurse started work from 10am up to 1pm, and for a finish of 6pm or later. Under the template, penalties apply if a nurse starts work from 10.30am to 1pm in the template, and finishes 7pm or later.

‘However, the improvements in conditions overall far outweighs the compromises made in regard to shift penalties,’ said Judith.

Importantly, the Dispute Settlement Clause has been included that allows for arbitration when matters cannot be resolved directly between the parties. This makes the agreement legally enforceable in the WorkChoices environment.

Will agreements be automatically negotiated at all facilities?

‘Howards’ new IR laws prohibit what’s called pattern bargaining, which is where the union negotiates an agreement covering all nurses in the sector or all nurses working for a group of employers who have signed the agreement,’ said Judith.

Under WorkChoices, a new agreement has to be negotiated for every employer and, in some cases, at every facility.

‘Just because a strong agreement has been negotiated at one facility, this does not mean it will automatically pass through to nurses in other similar facilities, carrying out similar roles,’ she said

’There is no obligation under the new IR laws for employers to negotiate a UCA,’ said Judith.

‘However, if nurses stick together and are committed to negotiating a UCA this will put pressure on their employer to come to the table.

‘Aged care nurses need to start planning now so they are in a strong bargaining position to push their employer for a good agreement that delivers fair pay and conditions.

‘The starting point is making sure everyone at your workplace is a member of the Union. Remember, there’s strength in numbers,’ said Judith.

More information on the ACS template agreement is available on the NSWNA website www.nswnurses.asn.au