We’re strong and we’re ready – May 2006

The new IR laws are extreme and designed to smash unions but the NSWNA is well prepared.

The Howard government has finally fronted with the full extent of its new workplace laws with the announcement of the regulations that accompany the legislation they passed late last year.

If any nurse in NSW thinks that the union movement has been exaggerating when it has been describing the breadth and malevolence of these laws, a read of these documents will convince you otherwise.

These new laws significantly change the balance of power between workers and employers.

They give the Minister of Workplace Relations the legal power to ban anything that is agreed between an employer and an employee. This interference in agreement-making makes a mockery of the federal government’s claims that the ‘reforms’ were about choice.

The new laws are also about suppressing dissent. Workers and unions can be fined massively for even suggesting commitments in agreements to job security, or to allow union members to meet during working time.

Although the Howard government’s new laws are extreme and designed to smash unions, the NSWNA is well prepared for the new environment.

The Association has been gearing up internally for some time to ensure the union is well equipped to defend the interests of nurses, no matter how hostile the environment.

Unions like ours, which are organised and active, will survive in this new environment.

The move by the Iemma Government to convert public hospital nurses into government employees means approximately two thirds of our membership is insulated from the new laws. This will continue for as long as we have a Labor government in NSW.

We have also locked in most private hospital employers into agreements that not only establish pay parity with public hospitals but also protect private hospital nurses’ workplace conditions to the greatest extent that this can be done, given the nature of Howard’s laws.

We have dedicated a lot of resources into organising the aged care sector with a dedicated organising team, which has led to more members and better organisation including strong, active branches.

We have established a campaign fund so we have the resources to convince politicians or employers there will be a cost for attacking nurses’ rights and conditions.

The federal government’s new laws will restrict us in our traditional ways of campaigning such as the use of industrial action. But our Nurse Power Fund will give us the scope to campaign in other ways so we can impact on public opinion and, by extension, on politics and policy.

The fund grows as a portion of members’ fees are paid into it and is the major reason members would have noted an increase in their fees from January of this year. Fee levels are also linked to nurses’ wage improvements. The Nurse Power Fund will put us in a strong position to take the necessary action to defend nurses’ rights.

We have broadened and improved our communications so our members are well informed about the issues confronting the profession. Our online capabilities are expanding so members can contact us and have access to information and materials 24 hours, 7 days a week. This will soon include the capacity to join and pay fees online.

We have gradually shifted more resources into campaigning and organising to meet the challenges of the new situation – without reducing our services to members. We now have the majority of our members paying union fees by direct debit, which lessens our reliance on employers to deliver us our members’ fees, although much remains to be done in this area.

The Howard government’s new laws threaten the rights and living standards and job security of all Australian workers. But this isn’t the first time workers and unions have been the target of this sort of political attack and it ultimately will fail like all attacks before it, providing we all maintain our commitment to benefit all not just the fortunate individual.