Taking the lead

The 2012 NSWNA Annual Conference was a time to reflect on the achievements of the last year, assess the new domestic and global political environment in which the Association operates, and set our goals for the future.

O’Farrell Government makes for challenging times

The state government’s attack on public sector wages and workers’ comp, plus changes to electoral funding laws that severely curtail the capacity of unions to campaign, illustrate the difficult framework in which our next pay and conditions campaign will be conducted, Brett Holmes told annual conference.

In his report to the NSWNA’s Annual Conference, General Secretary Brett Holmes acknowledged the notable wins achieved by “a well organised and resourced union supported by a committed membership”.

But he flagged that the coming year would be a challenge to consolidate and expand on these achievements. However, Brett emphasised the NSWNA’s will to meet this challenge.

“This annual conference is about further empowering you as delegates and representatives of your branches to take the lead on delivering safe patient care,” he said.

Brett said the state government’s relentless attack on public sector workers had set the tone for the Association’s next public health system pay and conditions campaign. In particular he singled out the winding back of workers’ compensation entitlements and the cap on public sector wages.

Brett described changes to workers’ compensation, introduced by the O’Farrell Government, as “a classic case of bad law” and criticised the back-door methods by which they were introduced.

“The government process of a quick parliamentary inquiry followed by laws pushed through in the middle of the night or at 3am, are the sign of a failure of fair and decent democracy.

“Essentially the long-term injured will be worst affected by these laws.

“Workers’ compensation will be a campaign focus for the union movement for the years to come, until we see a New South Wales government that has some compassion or commitment to working people.”

Brett also criticised the government’s public sector wages policy.

“Ageing, disability and home care members were given little choice but to accept a minimum 2.5% pay increase in July 2011 and are facing the same outcome again, with nothing that can be realistically traded off. Let there be no doubt that our members are suffering as a result of these state government decisions,” he said.

Silencing your voice

Brett said changes to the state electoral funding laws were lesser known but had far reaching ramifications on the ability of unions to campaign on behalf of their members.

“Under current laws, our ability to participate in a campaign as a collective with other unions is illegal, if it is deemed that it is for the purpose of influencing the vote for a political party or an individual.

“No such limitation has been spelled out for the media who have become campaigning organisations mostly in favour of big business and conservative political parties.”

Campaigning and activism works

Brett acknowledged the great progress made in aged care that has culminated in a Productivity Commission report and increased federal government funding for the sector – a significant amount of which is allocated to bridge the wages gap. He emphasised the critical role of campaigning and member activism in achieving these wins.

“Let us be clear – the Productivity Commission inquiry, report and subsequent Aged Care Compact, would not have happened without the Because We Care campaign of the past three-and-a-half years.

“All of those members who participated in this campaign should be acknowledged for the hard work and determination they have shown to get the outcome, which might not be everything we had been campaigning for, but which will make a difference in the longer term.”