Touch one nurse, touch us all – June 2006

Some health sector bosses are already using the new IR laws against nurses.

It’s early days under the new federal workplace regime but already we are seeing signs that some employers in the health sector are keen to take advantage of the greater power given to them by Canberra.

At Kapooka we have a well respected nurse unit manager, Anne Woodward, dismissed by the Australian Defence Force because she did what she saw as her duty when she raised her concerns about a procedure she thought was life-threatening to an army recruit.

Nurses from all over Wagga Wagga and the surrounding areas, from public hospitals, private hospitals and aged care facilities, have rallied in support of Anne.

It is a strong message to the ADF and any other employer that if you touch one nurse you touch them all.

At a Moran Health Care facility in Dubbo we have an example of an employer who is prepared to take advantage of the federal government’s new laws to unilaterally reduce nurses’ conditions and deny access to NSWNA officers to enter the workplace to discuss issues with our members.

It is a portent of how some employers will choose to act in the new IR environment.

We will pick our moment to respond to this provocation and not act on the employer’s terms. In situations like this members will need to be strong and united and be ready for a fight. The NSWNA, like all unions, will need their members to take a stand if we are to be effective in protecting nurses’ conditions.

NSWNA officers will always support action, as we did at Kapooka, but the reality is we are not, and cannot, be physically at the workplace 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Any battle to be undertaken, and there are plenty in front of us, will require commitment from members, preparedness to accept consequences and an understanding that there is uncertainty because of the new laws.

The more things change, the more they stay the same

Although public hospital nurses, at least in the short term, are protected from the excesses of the federal IR laws they too are still confronted with substantial challenges.

In these days when the role of nurses in health management is under pressure, history reminds us that nurses have always played an integral role in health service management.

I was recently reminded of this when I had the opportunity to visit the Florence Nightingale museum at St Thomas and St Guy’s hospital in London.

Behind the enduring iconic image of Florence Nightingale as the lady with the lamp is a less well known but substantial historical legacy.  Florence Nightingale’s contribution across the world – from England to India to Australia – was recognising the importance of well-educated and well-trained nurses and their vital role, not only at the clinical level, but also in the management and coordination of health.

Florence Nightingale proved to be the most effective nurse of her time because of her success in improving the management of both the British military hospitals and also public health systems.

It’s important we focus on the federal IR laws which are impacting on a large number of our members but I would urge members in the public hospital system to remain vigilant as well.

It is vital for the community, as Florence Nightingale realised so long ago, that nurses retain their important role in the management of the health system.