Strong case for increased night rates

The NSWNA has lodged its claim for increased night shift penalty rates with the NSW Industrial Relations Commission.

The right to argue for an increase in night shift penalty rates was part of the settlement in the public health system pay campaign.

A key component of the NSWNA case will be academic research that outlines the deleterious health effects of shift work, based on extensive studies conducted on nurses and other shift workers both overseas and in Australia.

When the existing rates were set by the Commission in 1972 no weight was given to the health impacts of shift work as they were ‘too indefinite to carry much weight in assessing compensation’, according to the Commission at the time.

Since 1972, there has been a significant increase in the understanding of the health and social effects of shift work.

‘We think there is a very strong case for an increase in the night penalty rates in light of the more comprehensive understanding of the effects of shift work that are now known,’ said NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes.

‘Empirical studies conducted since 1972 have shown that shift workers have increased risks of serious health problems including breast cancer, cardio-vascular disease, gastro-intestinal disorders and reproductive health problems.’

Research also shows a range of social disadvantages arising from the working of night shifts or rotating shifts. These include family disruption, social dislocation and isolation, and elevated levels of marital breakdown.

The academic research in the NSWNA claim is backed up by NSW nurses’ personal experiences of poor sleep, health and mood problems and significant social and family disruption.

Nurse Unit Managers reported a reluctance by nurses to work night shift and frequent difficulties in rostering in these circumstances.

Grant Isedale, an Emergency Department Nurse Manager, said night shift is always a challenge when setting the rosters.

‘I can often fill a roster vacancy on mornings or afternoon shifts with permanent part-time staff. These nurses will seldom agree to do an additional shift on a night shift unless it is an overtime shift with overtime penalty payment,’ he said.

‘One of the main factors that influences nurses to change from permanent employment is a desire to get away from working on a rotating roster system, particularly night shifts.’

Brett Holmes said the penalty rates for night shift in NSW are the lowest for public sector nurses in Australia, with rates in other states as high as 35%, and this is a contributing factor to the nurse shortage in NSW.

‘Mandatory shift work is a factor that causes many nurses and midwives to leave the public health system,’ he said.

‘The ageing of the nursing workforce adds to the problem. Many nurses report that as they get older they find it harder to cope with the onerous physical demands of night shifts and the disrupted sleep patterns.

NSW penalty rates compared to other states

  • NSW 15%
  • South Australia 19.5%
  • Queensland 20%
  • Victoria 20-26%
  • Northern Territory 22.5%
  • ACT 22.5%
  • Tasmania 25%
  • Western Australia 35%