Fair conditions, fair pay will salve public health woes

‘Fair conditions. Fair pay. Nurses Stay. It’s that simple.’ is the campaign line for the NSWNA 2008 claim for wages and conditions in the NSW public health system.

NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes says it is a clear message for the Iemma Government about where they need to act if they want to solve the seemingly intractable problems in the NSW public health system.

‘The Government has to get serious about making nursing a more attractive profession,’ he said.

The main features of the claim, which has been served on NSW Health, are:

  • a new four-year wages and conditions agreement with NSW Health, to take effect after the current agreement expires on 30 June 2008;
  • a 5% per year pay rise for all public hospital and community health nurses and midwives, with the first rise taking effect in July 2008;
  • a new Level 2 classification for nurses and midwives who have more than seven years’ experience and who are working permanent full-time or permanent part-time. The pay rate sought, before the 5% general pay rise applies, is 3.8% above the current Registered Nurse Year 8 rate;
  • a similar 3.8% rise, to maintain pay relativities, for all permanent employees in classifications above the new Level 2;
  • a new classification at higher pay for experienced enrolled nurses;
  • an increase in the penalty loading for night shift from 15% to 25%;
  • a 1% increase, per year of the agreement, in employer superannuation contributions. This will take the current rate from 9% to 13%;
  • making it easier for casual and temporary employees to voluntarily convert to permanent positions;
  • 225 extra Clinical Nurse Educators to provide more support for junior staff and ongoing education for all clinicians.

Brett Holmes says a key objective of the claim is to keep experienced nurses in the profession because their clinical skills are irreplaceable and they also play a vital role in mentoring new nurses.

‘More graduates and enticing back nurses who have left the profession are undoubtedly necessary to overcome the nurse shortage. But so is taking care of those nurses who have stuck it out and continued to deepen their skills. We cannot afford to lose these nurses and we also need to get more of them into permanent positions. We need to get the right balance between permanents and casuals. That is why we are seeking this new classification, at a higher pay rate than the current Registered Nurse Year 8 rate, for experienced permanent nurses and midwives,’ he said.

The new pay rate would bring nurses into line with other health professionals with similar experience, such as physiotherapists, diversional therapists, orthoptists and exercise physiologists.

Another key problem in the health system is filling night shift rosters and the claim also addresses this issue.

‘It is time the night shift penalty rate for NSW nurses was brought into line with national standards. The current rate of 15% was set back in the 1970s. It is no longer sufficient to meet the needs of the health system,’ said Brett Holmes.

‘Everyone knows we need more support for new graduates and junior staff. Our claim for an extra 225 Clinical Nurse Educators (CNE) will bring the ratio of CNEs to (full-time equivalent) clinical nurses from the current 1 to 71 to a more manageable 1 to 40.

‘Finally, it is widely recognised that the current compulsory superannuation rate of 9% is inadequate and that 15% is the target Australia should be aiming at if it is to give people a reasonable retirement. The Howard Government dropped the ball on this issue.

That is why the NSWNA has put this issue on the agenda through this claim and we are seeking a rate of 13% by the end of this agreement.’