Don’t take nurses for granted, Mr Iemma – June 2008

The Rudd Government has kept its election promise and ploughed much needed funds into public health. It’s now up to the Iemma Government to meet its responsibilities and act to keep nurses in the system.

The NSWNA lodged its log of claims for improved pay and conditions for public health nurses and midwives with NSW Health on 15 February. As The Lamp goes to print, more than three months later, we have still not received an offer from the employer.

This is unprecedented and nurses and midwives have good reasons to be angry with this show of contempt by the State Government.

It gets worse. Also unprecedented is the Government’s declaration that it will not pay back pay for any agreement reached after the expiry of the old one on 30 June. With less than 20 working days to the expiry of the old agreement, and with no offer on the table, it is hard not to draw the conclusion that the Government is acting in bad faith towards its nurses.

The talks conducted so far between your union and the employer have not been promising. There is no indication that the department will offer more than the 2.5% increase flagged in the Government’s public sector wage policy.

Nurses and their families are doing it tough

This wages policy of 2.5% annual increases, unless there are demonstrable gains in productivity, is now looking, at the very least, inappropriate with Australian Bureau of Statistics showing inflation running at around 4.2% per annum.

A closer look at the ABS figures are even more alarming with staples like milk up 11.6%, bread up 9%, vegetables up 9.7% and food up by 5.7% overall. With petrol up 18.9%, rents by 7.1% and the relentless rise of interest rates – 12 in a row – the budgets of working families are under enormous stress.

To ask nurses to justify a pay increase beyond 2.5% with more ‘employee-related cost’ savings is a cruel joke. There is nothing left to give. The mountain of evidence to the Garling inquiry, and the all-too-regular breakdowns in our public hospitals, provide compelling evidence that the NSW health system is barely holding together and then only because of the heroic sacrifices of our nurses.

‘Can’t afford it’ is more of the blame game

Throughout the life of the Howard Government the State Governments complained that the Federal Government, by reducing its share of funding of public health from 50% to 42%, was putting an unfair burden on state finances to keep our public health system working.

There was a lot of truth in these claims. But this year’s Federal Budget has gone a long way to redress this issue with a significant increase in funding – $10 billion – for health and a change in emphasis in health policy, away from subsidising private health funds and towards greater investment in public health. These are very welcome developments.

NSW has also complained strongly in the past about missing out on its fair share of GST revenue. Again, this issue has been redressed in the budget.

Taken together, these funding measures show that Federal Labor is serious about fixing our health system and other public services. They have made more money available to the states to invest in health.

However, the chronic workforce shortages and the unsustainable burden that has been put on the shoulders of nurses has been noticeably absent in Labor’s health announcements. It is a major weakness in their analysis of the health crisis. There is no point in investing in new infrastructure and beds if there aren’t any nurses to staff them.

The ball is now in the Iemma Government’s court. It’s time to fix our public health system and they must start by addressing critical workforce issues and giving nurses fair pay and conditions so they will stay.

To argue that they ‘can’t afford it’ is more of the blame game and NSW nurses aren’t going to wear it.