Workplace pressure moves Ramsay

Ramsay nurses win pay parity and protection

The federal government’s anti-worker WorkChoices is on the cusp of becoming law. In this environment, winning a pay offer from major employer Ramsay that brings pay parity with public hospital nurses and protection of conditions is a big achievement ` thanks to concerted action from private hospital nurses.

Ramsay, the biggest employer in private hospitals and a trendsetter for pay in the sector, has made an improved pay offer to NSWNA members after four months of talks. This follows strong action from NSWNA members in Ramsay facilities across the state.

Ramsay’s final offer is a 4% wage in-crease from 1 September 2006, a 4% wage increase from 1 September 2007 and a 2.5% increase from 30 June 2008. These increases are in addition to the 3.5% Ramsay paid nurses from 1 November 2005.

The increases bring private hospital nurses to the same pay levels as their public hospital colleagues over the length of the agreement that would end in September 2008.

As The Lamp went to print, the NSWNA and Ramsay were putting the finishing touches to an in-principle agreement that will be put to members to vote on in the week of 6 March.

Ramsay has also agreed to a process for dealing with reasonable workloads issues. This process will encourage employees and managers at the local level to discuss workload problems and, if no agreement is reached, a dispute can be taken to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission.

Nurses’ rights such as the right for NSWNA delegates to conduct union business and for NSWNA organisers to enter workplaces to visit nurses are maintained.

Ramsay has also made a commitment to maintain existing state award conditions of employment until at least September 2008.
Offer brings certainty to both sides

NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes said Ramsay has clearly seen the strength of members’ commitment to the campaign for better pay.

‘I think Ramsay was aware that our members in private hospitals were determined to get what they were entitled to: equality with their public hospital colleagues.’

He said that the proposed agreement is a very good one under the current circumstances.

‘I will be recommending that members vote in favour of the agreement,’ he said.

Brett said these difficult talks were not helped by the confrontational nature of WorkChoices and the federal government’s lack of clarity over its implementation.

‘These talks occurred with the backdrop of the federal government’s new IR laws about to be implemented. This was a very uncertain environment to negotiate in. To reach an agreement that brings equality with public hospital colleagues, improves security by protecting conditions and brings some certainty for nurses is a formidable achievement.’

Brett Holmes said that even though the federal government has flagged that their new IR laws will be operational late in March, neither unions nor employers had seen the all-important regulations from the federal Minister of Workplace Relations that will be crucial to how the overall system operates.

‘An agreement in the state system with Ramsay will be a great outcome that will give some certainty going into uncertain times under WorkChoices.’

We need to maintain activism
While Ramsay has indicated its willingness to be ‘a fair, competitive and predictable employer’, it is also keeping its options open.

In correspondence with the NSWNA, Ramsay stated they are not in a position to respond on issues that are speculative at this point in time with the new IR laws at hand, especially in light of the high court challenge to the WorkChoices legislation.

Brett Holmes said this gives a pointer to how some employers will wait and see how WorkChoices will pan out on a wider stage.
‘We can’t afford to let our guard down and it will be essential to maintain the level of activism we have built in private hospitals and build on it.’

Having your say on the conditions

  • NSWNA financial members will be sent a voting kit soon
  • The vote is to accept the whole package – pay and conditions
  • The vote needs to be conducted urgently – any agreement needs to be certified by the state industrial relations commission before Howard’s new laws come into effect.

What Ramsay is offering now

  • 4% wage increase from 1 September 2006
  • 4% wage increase from 1 September 2007
  • 2.5% wage increase from 30 June 2008
  • these increases are in addition to the 3.5% paid on 1 November 2005
  • Enrolled Nurses with medication endorsement get 2% above EN wage rate (approx $15 a week)
  • recognition for NSWNA delegates to conduct union business
  • maintaining the legal rights of NSWNA organisers to enter workplaces to visit nurses
  • a commitment to maintain existing conditions of employment until 1 September 2008
  • An agreed process for resolving workload issues.

Where they won’t budge
Ramsay won’t move from its existing paid parental leave provisions and rejected the claim for a continuing education allowance.
They also rejected a claim for on-call and in-charge allowances to be varied on par with wages.

Why nurses need a NSW Enterprise Agreement now
Ramsay nurses will be covered by the federal system once legislation is passed this month. If we have a NSW Agreement:

  • the pay rises for 2005-2008 will all be legally enforceable
  • existing conditions in your state Award will be protected until September 2008
  • the Agreement will carry over to the new federal system and be renamed a ‘Preserved State Agreement’.

Without a NSW Agreement, none of these protections will be guaranteed and the pay rises will not be legally enforceable.