An unacceptable offer

Editorialmar2012June 2013

The O’Farrell Government has responded with a curt “No” to our public health system ratios and pay claim so we must continue to make our case with the community and increase the pressure on MPs to change their stance.

Our claim was reasonable and responsible yet the state government deemed it unworthy of a reasonable and responsible response.

Nurses and midwives throughout the state, despite the economic pressures faced by all, voted during February to limit their wage claim to 2.5% so that resources could be directed towards improving safe patient care.

Now, several months later, the government has given a flat “no” to improving and extending the ratios/nursing hours that have proven to be so successful after they were won (in a tough fight) in 2011. The only improvement to nurses and midwives conditions on offer is a measly 2.25% wage increase.

When the O’Farrell Government came to office one of its first acts was to pass a law that limited public sector wage increases. It also eliminated the NSW Industrial Relations Commission’s role as an independent umpire in wage negotiations. Effectively, the government gave itself the power to arbitrarily determine public sector wages and conditions, including those of nurses and midwives, in the public health system.

It is now hiding behind its own law in denying reasonable improvements, not only to the pay and conditions of nurses and midwives, but to patient safety in the public health system.

During discussions with the Association, Ministry of Health officials have consistently stated that the government’s wages law does not allow any extension or improvement to the Award ratios system.

The government is using this bad law, not only to hold nurses and midwives hostage, but also patients in the public health system.

The government has also moved the goal posts on wages. It recently reinterpreted its bad wages law to make it worse by shifting the burden of the increase in superannuation from the employer to the employee.

This explains the now approximately 2.25% wage offer for 2013 that is even less than what has been offered to other public sector workers since the government took office.

There is one further component of the government’s wages law of which we need to be cognisant. If there is no agreement between the government and its nursing and midwifery workforce before the Award expires on 30 June, there will be no back pay when there finally is an agreement.

This is not the first time, and it won’t be the last, that we are put in a position where we have to fight for what is right.

The government is hiding behind its bad law and our challenge is to get it to change that bad law. Out task is to put pressure on every MP in New South Wales to put pressure on Barry O’Farrell to do just that.

To the Premier’s credit, he has responded positively to community pressure in the past. He has revised positions on coal seam gas and solar panels after public outcry. He has also taken an independent position to his fellow conservative premiers and the federal opposition on the Gillard Government’s Gonski education reforms.

Now he has an opportunity to do the right thing by the people of New South Wales and improve and extend ratios so we can improve patient care.