Victorian nurses save ratios

Emotions ran high at the ANF mass meetings.
Emotions ran high at the ANF mass meetings.

After a marathon industrial dispute the Victorian Liberal Government gave up trying to return the state’s hospitals to the dark ages.Victoria’s nurses have defeated the state’s Liberal government in its attempt to destroy nurse-to-patient ratios and replace registered nurses with assistants.

The nurses also won pay rises of at least 3.5% a year and a professional development allowance worth up to $1000 per year.

After a nine-month campaign in which hundreds of hospital beds were closed and more than 1000 elective operations cancelled, the government of Premier Ted Baillieu capitulated.

Nurses who defied a court order not to strike risked individual fines of up to $6600 and their union risked a fine of up to $33,000.

More than 1000 nurses who took part in rolling work stoppages were docked up to 20 hours’ pay.

The public supported these nurses by donating to a hardship fund set up by the Victorian branch of the Australian Nursing Federation (ANF).

ANF State Secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick said more than 2000 nurses and midwives had joined the union since October.

“I have seen the birth of more than 1000 activists who are very keen that this government is only in power for one term,” she said.

“The Baillieu Government has politicised a new generation of nurses and ensured that there will be red t-shirt clad nurses and midwives at every polling booth on 29 November 2014, reminding voters that this government wanted to substitute nurses with a three-year degree, with health assistants who had three months training.”

She said the four-year deal signed with the government meant, “Health assistants will not replace nurses as part of the ratios and hospitals will not be introducing unlimited four-hour shifts or split shifts.

“Patients admitted to rehabilitation wards will now benefit from an improved nurse patient ratio, from 1:7 on the evening shift to 1:5, in recognition of the enormity of nurse workloads in this speciality.

“ANF has also secured annual funding to work towards a 1:3 ratio in day oncology units.”

Lisa Fitzpatrick said productivity offsets included the union agreeing to waive its right of veto for hospitals to staff wards below ratios “in very limited circumstances”. The agreed safety checks required were so onerous most would never bother trying.

Safety checks would be “based on consideration of the consequences of strict criteria including patient acuity, nurse satisfaction and nursing-sensitive outcomes such as falls, urinary tract infections, pneumonia, decubitus ulcers, thrombosis, sepsis and medication errors.”

In another union concession, hospitals can now use a skill mix of 20% enrolled nurses in medical and surgical wards, an increase from 15% in the 2007 agreement. The remaining nurses will be registered nurses.

Enrolled nurses will now have the same entitlements as registered nurses, including an additional week of annual leave and access to exam leave for many.

Lisa Fitzpatrick said it was important to recognise that nurses and midwives were not alone in their fight to protect patient care.

“Thank you to the hundreds of thousands of people who called or emailed the ANF, posted supportive messages via our Facebook page and Twitter, wrote letters to the newspapers, called talkback radio, signed our petition, attended a rally or stoppage, generously donated to the hardship fund and opened their doors when we door knocked in Bentleigh,” she said.

“This victory is bittersweet because it will take a long, long time before the Baillieu Government earns back the respect of nurses and midwives. It should not take nine months to convince a state government that its job is to protect and improve patient care.

“The Baillieu Government was naïve and ill advised when it embarked on a campaign to end mandated minimum nurse/midwife ratios. It was naïve and ill advised when it was told flexibility was needed to meet patient peaks and troughs, which of course are unpredictable. It was naïve and ill advised when it was told it could replace nurses with health assistants and expect the same standard of patient care.”

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CAMPAIGN HIGHLIGHTS

9 months since negotiations began

128 days since conciliation in Fair Work Australia started

8 statewide meetings of nurses

14 days of industrial action involving bed closures

700 hospital beds closed by nurses

1516 hospital beds closed by the Baillieu Government

35 community rallies

10,000 protesters march from Bourke Street to Spring Street in Melbourne CBD

One international protest in New Delhi, India

15 hospitals in rolling stoppages over 14 days

2000 nurses and midwives involved in stoppages

110,000 signatures on a petition to Premier Baillieu

29,500 names on an online petition to Premier Baillieu

19,000 doors knocked in Bentleigh electorate

5 ANF television commercials

3 ANF radio commercials

70,000 Respect Our Work t-shirts sold

2500 new ANF (Victorian Branch) members

1000 new nurse and midwife activists