We’re standing by aged care nurses

Over the past month, you may have noticed TV ads defending nurses’ rights against the federal government’s IR laws. The campaign has particularly focused on defending aged care nurses’ rights. The NSWNA has undertaken this campaign with other branches of the ANF throughout Australia.

So why are the NSWNA and ANF waging such a determined campaign to fight these laws?

According to NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes, the NSWNA and ANF made the decision to develop a TV campaign defending aged care nurses because they are directly under attack from the federal government’s WorkChoices legislation.

‘WorkChoices is a direct threat to aged care nurses’ pay and conditions because they are already under the federal system.

‘We were not prepared to stand by and watch the pay and conditions of our colleagues in aged care decimated by these vicious laws,’ said Brett.

In the 1980s, aged care nursing wages were generally on a par with public hospital nursing rates. Since then, a serious wage gap has arisen and the poor pay and conditions have led to an exodus of nurses from the sector.

The ANF says nurses working in aged care earn on average $250 per week less than their colleagues in other sectors.

Brett said Howard’s IR laws have the potential to widen the gap further and erode hard-won conditions such as penalty rates.

The disparity in pay between the aged care and public hospital sectors means it is difficult to attract adequate numbers of nursing staff.

There has been a steady decline in the number of nurses working in aged care with a 21% decrease between 1995 and 2004, according to the ANF. This is despite the increase in high-level care needs and an overall increase of 23% of residents in aged care facilities.

These problems are exacerbated by another burning issue: at least 46% of registered nurses in residential aged care are over 50 years of age and are approaching retirement – higher than any other area of nursing.

‘In this environment, the federal government’s IR laws are a disaster, with the serious threat of lower pay and the loss of conditions through AWAs and non-union agreements,’ said Brett.

But it’s not just aged care nurses who are under threat from WorkChoices.

The federal IR laws cover more than 100,000 nurses in aged care facilities, private hospitals and private practices around the country. They also cover public hospital nurses in Victoria, the ACT and the Northern Territory. The Howard government has sought advice about bringing all state government employees, including public hospital nurses, under WorkChoices.

‘This campaign is about standing together with nurses nationally and defending our public health and aged care systems,’ Brett said.

Funds for the TV campaign come from the Nurse Power Fund, which was created to protect nurses from opportunistic or antagonistic policies from political parties at the state or federal level. The fund was established after a long and thorough debate by NSWNA members at the branch level, at Committee of Delegates and at two Annual Conferences. NSWNA delegates voted unanimously to create the fund at the 2005 Annual Conference.