In tough times we stick together and build our strength

In the past year we didn’t get all the outcomes we wanted, but our campaigns have still been effective.

The political and industrial climate is bleak and the only way for the Association to weather these stormy times and prosper is to build our strength at the local level, NSWNMA General Secretary Brett Holmes told our annual conference.

“There’s no sugar-coating the challenging political, economic and industrial climate the union movement and by default, you as union members are operating under. We see it clearly, and each of you are experiencing it firsthand,” he said.

“Down in Canberra, new federal industrial relations minister, Christian Porter, is already planning another review of workplace laws – using the Coalition’s May election victory as a mandate for more unpleasant reform.”

Under governments who are hostile to workers and their unions there is no legislation that allows unions to run sector-wide bargaining, run pay equity cases or run work value cases, Brett said.

“It’s clear that under conservative Coalition governments, legislation will continue to get even more draconian – unless we can turn the power balance around.”

Strong workplaces will deliver success

Brett said a priority for the Association over the last few years has been to strengthen the Association’s presence in the workplace.

“We’ve been achieving this through significant organising reforms and important member leader development.

“Building collective strength at local workplaces and empowering your fellow members to take on management is paramount to achieving success and long-term outcomes.

“We acknowledge there is mild trepidation out there to take on these challenges, but with strong leaders, courageous members, and support from your union it is possible to achieve positive results.”

Brett said achieving substantial change in health and aged care can seem like an impossible task – until it’s done.

“History shows us, comprehensive and strategic campaigns that challenge ingrained practices and behaviours in society do take time – but they are necessary.

“Together, we’ve made a considerable impact over this past year. If we continue to show tenacity, resolve and courage, our public support will continue to grow and governments will be forced to listen. This is where our strength lies.”

Ratios still the goal

Although the state government continues to resist ratios, nurses and midwives remain resolute in their commitment to win them in the interests of patient safety. This may require different approaches than in the past, says Brett.

“A recent survey of public health members overwhelmingly confirmed that you want to keep up the fight for ratios in NSW. In order to do that, we must build up our collective power.

“Private hospital members are no different; and our aged care members desperately need a real staffing solution.”

There is no choice but to continue to fight if we are to safeguard “the delivery of safe patient care within a world-class health system that should be the envy of the globe”, he says.

“We must hold management to account. We must have the courage to close beds. We must engage our local communities for support. And we must seek out members of parliament and highlight our issues repeatedly, until we see change.

“We are driven by the values and beliefs that represent fairness and social justice – these values are not only shared among us at the bedside, but also by our patients and our local communities.”

Some setbacks but big steps forward as well

While our campaigns for ratios in the public health sector and aged care are ongoing, there have still been significant achievements over the last 12 months resulting from our campaigning, says Brett Holmes:

  • The High Court agreed with our arguments that the government’s new electoral funding laws should be deemed ‘unconstitutional’ and threw them out.
  • Both major political parties in NSW turned to us for input on their health policies, while the minor parties and independents sought our advice on health and then supported our calls for change.
  • The Berejiklian government finally acknowledged Nursing Hours Per Patient Day in B and C hospitals must improve.
  • Our pressure has pushed the state government to fund an additional 893 nurses and 48 midwives in the public hospital system over the next four years.
  • Action by the NSWNMA stopped the government’s attempts to cut public sector workers’ long service leave entitlements.
  • Efforts to legislate ratios in aged care continue to make ground and the crisis plaguing aged care is finally receiving the attention it deserves.