We are determined to continue our campaign for safe patient care

Editorialmar2012The O’Farrell Government thinks that by unilaterally setting the wages of public health system nurses and midwives our pay and ratios campaign is done and dusted. They couldn’t be more wrong.

“We need to maintain our resolve to keep the government honest.”

We have yet to win the whole campaign but nurses and midwives, along with other public sector workers won a significant battle last month when the New South Wales parliament voted to stop the O’Farrell Government slashing your take home pay. The ALP, the Greens and the Shooters and Fishers’ Party combined to block the Coalition’s attempt to legislate away its responsibility to pay an extra 0.25% in superannuation.

Those three parties responded to the arguments advanced by Unions NSW, the NSWNMA and other New South Wales unions and their vote reflected the support our arguments have garnered in the community.

The Shooters Party said “our expectation when we discussed (legislating the pay cap) with the government, was that 2.5% means 2.5% in [workers’] wages, in their pay packets. Not 2.25% plus a quarter of a per cent in their superannuation.”

After the vote, and not for the first time when their dictatorial impulses have been challenged, the government immediately flagged that they would move the goal posts if they could.

Treasurer Mike Baird said, “we must look at every option available, whether it be a legal appeal or whether it be taking additional savings measures to ensure we remain living within our means”.

We should look at this development within a bigger picture. The government thinks that by gutting the power of the NSW Industrial Relations Commission and legislating a cap on public sector wages – effectively by repealing many of your workplace rights – it can do whatever it wants.

Thankfully, we live in a democracy and it cannot do whatever it wants. The parliamentary block of its attempt to cut your take home pay is evidence of that.

We are in a serious struggle with the government for safer patient care and our campaign to extend and improve ratios will be a long game. We need to be patient, innovative and determined to win. It needs more than what we have done in the past because we can no longer rely as much on the machinery of industrial relations.

We can still use what industrial processes we have at our disposal to enforce our wins of the past. As things now stand the Award has been varied to pay a 2.27% wage increase. Meetings with the Ministry of Health have stopped. It is reasonable to expect that the next award pay increase is due in July 2014.

The award is still active so there is an opportunity for the government to improve and extend ratios between now and July 2014.

There are also opportunities for nurses and midwives to put pressure on the government to do the right thing. But we cannot confine our efforts to the industrial arena. We also have to fight the good fight in the political domain and in the court of public opinion.

All year we have been building that pressure with workplace activities, MP visits and paid advertising. We need to maintain that momentum, albeit strategically timed, between now and 2015.

What is crucial here is the support of the community and we must double and redouble our efforts to win the support of the public for our campaign for safer patient care through improved and extended ratios.

We need to maintain our resolve to keep the government honest. Each day that the government stonewalls is another day closer to the next state election. That makes it vulnerable if they continue to defy the support we have in the community.

We are not alone. We have allies – lots of them. The vote on superannuation shows that from time to time we have diverse allies in parliament. Our affiliation with Global Nurses United (see pp 12) links us with nurses and midwives around the world who share our ambition for better public health systems.

And last, but certainly not least, we have the support of a public that consistently expresses its desire for a world class public health system.

Any government who ignores that community aspiration does so at its peril.