We must stand up for what we have won

The repeal of the aged care supplement and public hospital management dragging the chain on staffing remind us that winning improvements in the public health system and aged care is only a beginning. You must constantly defend what you have won.

Nurses and midwives often find themselves exposed to unsafe staffing arrangements in their wards despite the existence of ratios and a reasonable workloads clause in the public health system award.

In this month’s Lamp (see pages 16 and 12) we look at how NSWNMA members at Dubbo and John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle have taken strong action to enforce those provisions in the award and forced management to allocate adequate resources to fund safe staffing.

The Dubbo Hospital branch of the NSWNMA voted to close the emergency medical unit and refused to work overtime as a response to unsafe staffing arrangements. Management then moved quickly to remedy this unsafe staffing.

At John Hunter, operating theatre nurses imposed work bans after the health service failed to recruit nurses it had received funding for. The Industrial Relations Commission agreed with them and management has been forced to fast track recruitment.

There is a clear lesson for us here. It is not good enough to win staffing arrangements like ratios and a reasonable workloads clause and have them embedded in the award. These award provisions also need to be enforced.

We have to stand up for what we have won. I encourage members everywhere to follow the lead of their Dubbo and John Hunter colleagues and stand up for their rights and the rights of their patients. It is only by such actions that the high quality care our patients deserve will be delivered.

The Abbott Government had only been in office for a month and one of its first actions was to block the modest pay increases due to aged care workers.

The Association is extremely disappointed that the federal government has seen fit to snatch this overdue pay increase out of aged care workers very meagre income.

Aged care employers are very happy they have control of the funding. Aged care workers have fewer reasons to be happy. History tells us that when funding has been made available for staffing it has always resulted in a less than adequate return for employees.

It is important to note that the amount of funding has not been reduced. What Tony Abbott has done is remove the guarantee that the increased funding will be passed on to aged care worker in wages.

We are going to have to fight long and hard to make sure employers don’t keep that funding as profits.

As The Lamp went to print it had been announced, in another unilateral decision by the New South Wales government, that Ageing, Disability and Home Care (ADHC) would be privatised and disability services passed to the non-government sector by 2018.

The O’Farrell Government is manipulating the new National Disability Insurance Scheme to justify washing its hands of all responsibility for delivering disability services.

The Association has serious concerns about whether standards of care and the quality of care will be maintained in such an environment.

If our experiences in aged care with the non-government sector are anything to go by, the retention of qualified nursing staff at the current levels provided in NSW government services will be at risk, as a result of the demand for surpluses/profits to maintain viability of non- government organisations.

We will have more to say about this in next month’s Lamp.