Creative action works – February 2006

When you are organised, prepared to act and are creative, you can win.

2006 promises to be a big year for unions and I’m proud as General Secretary to start it off by congratulating our members at John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle for their splendid intervention to ensure this important regional hospital has adequate air conditioning (see page 14).

The action by our members at John Hunter shows how effective nurses can be when, working through their union, they combine with the local community and media to achieve a significant win.

It is not just nurses who are the winners here but also patients and their families, other health workers and the wider community. And not just in Newcastle. People from all over Northern NSW are dependent on John Hunter for tertiary referral services.

Nurses at John Hunter have forced the state government to bring forward a timetable to provide air conditioning to alleviate the horrendous and dangerous conditions being experienced by patients and staff.

The battle is not over yet. Interim measures are needed to provide the best possible working environment until an effective air conditioning system is implemented.

But our John Hunter branch has reminded us all, at a challenging moment in our history, of the fundamentals of unionism. When you are organised, prepared to act, are creative and you work with the community, you can win.

Spotlight now turns to private hospitals

Nurses in private hospitals, who are the subject of pay talks between the NSWNA and their employers, will need to show similar resolve and creativity to win what they deserve.

These talks are being conducted in a difficult environment with the Federal Government’s new laws expected to come into force in March. This leaves a short time frame to complete negotiations using the state system to cement future wage increases.

Two major employers, Ramsey and Healthscope, have already agreed to pay 3.5% to reduce the difference between public and private hospital wages. However, that still leaves private hospital nurses behind their public hospital colleagues. Surveys we have conducted with our members tell us that this situation is unacceptable.

Our recent telephone survey of private members reinforced the union position that nurses in private hospitals (or, for that matter, in aged care) deserve to be paid the same rate as public hospital colleagues.

As The Lamp goes to print, the employers have rejected a large number of our claims. We and they are committed to ongoing talks but there is no guarantee employers will improve their offer.

On the eve of the intro-duction of the new federal legislation, this will leave private nurses in a difficult position if a satisfactory result is not reached.

We will need quick actions to get the message through to mana-ge-ment about our level of commitment and concerns. And decision making time on any final offer will need to be quick and responsive.

Proof of our resilience and relevance

The Howard Government’s new IR laws are putting at risk conditions that nurses have enjoyed for a long period of time.

But the John Hunter experience shows that even when there are legislative powers that disempower workers, there are still avenues to act.

The win at John Hunter also shows unions still have a significant role to play in our society. Our actions benefit not only our members but the wider community and we play an important role in keeping governments and management accountable.