Leave rights protected at St Vincent’s Health  

St Vincent’s Private and Mater nurses block an attempt to downgrade working conditions in new agreement.

A strong stand by nurses and midwives has forced St Vincent’s Health to abandon proposed reductions in working conditions including potential cuts to annual leave.

St Vincent’s Health owns the Mater Hospital, North Sydney and St Vincent’s Private Hospital, Darlinghurst.

During negotiations for a new enterprise agreement (EA), NSWNMA branches at both hospitals carried resolutions calling on the company to withdraw its proposed changes.

Opposition to the changes led management to stop a vote on the EA a few hours before voting closed.

The company then resumed negotiations with the NSWNMA and made a better offer, which nurses voted to accept.

NSWNMA Assistant Secretary Judith Kiejda said the improved offer was a result of nurses getting active and voting no to the company’s first proposal.

“The hard work of NSWNMA members right across St Vincent’s Health brought about this win,” she said.

“Our branch officials did a great job organising meetings and communicating with members in other ways.”

A threat to annual leave

Judith said some employees could have lost up to two week’s annual leave because management wanted to change the definition of a shift worker.

“The company wanted to change the eligibility test for six weeks leave from a requirement to work, or be available to work on a seven-day basis to being regularly required to work over seven days.

“There was a risk that if you didn’t meet this new test, your leave could be cut.

“We surveyed nurses and midwives at both hospitals and got more than 400 responses. They indicated that many nurses and midwives could lose annual leave.

“Management said they didn’t intend to cut anyone’s leave but refused to remove the new wording from the proposed EA.

“The final agreement accepted by members includes a clearly worded clause that protects nurses’ entitlement to six week’s annual leave if they are required to work across seven days.”

Management’s proposed EA also would have restricted union access to the Fair Work Commission. 

“The previous EA allowed us to go to the commission about any matter. The company wanted to allow access only on matters covered in the EA,” Judith said.

“If members had not stood their ground we would not have been able to represent them on many important matters.”

A commitment to ACORN standards

Judith said the new EA includes a written commitment that ACORN standards will be taken into account when determining staffing levels in perioperative services.

Mater Hospital midwife Jeannette Gonzalez, a member of the NSWNMA negotiating team, said it was her first experience of EA negotiations.

“I think members were happy with the outcome of the negotiations and I learned a lot by getting involved,” Jeannette said. “I recommend every member should try to get involved and learn how it all works.

“Our union officials gave us valuable advice throughout the negotiation process, which was very welcome.”

She said it was important to stop the proposed change to the definition of shift worker and maintain the right to go to the Fair Work Commission on all matters.

“If we had lost that, the union would have found it more difficult to help us resolve problems.”

Jeannette said the negotiation process had resulted in a better understanding between management and staff in maternity services.

“Managers are more open to working with us and there have been some improvements, including to staffing arrangements in the delivery suite. We are working on other changes.

“At the Mater Hospital we strive for excellence and we have to work together to ensure that staff 
are happy.”

Strong turnout at meetings helps staff to follow negotiations and have their say.

Mater Hospital NSWNMA branch meetings had the highest attendance levels ever recorded during negotiations for a new enterprise agreement (EA) this year.

“Our members were keen to hear what was happening during the process and express their ideas about what they’d like to see changed,” branch secretary Lucy Jandura said.

“We have learned that having a strong branch and working out ways to communicate and  network with members who can’t attend meetings is very important.

“Several members acted as a delegate for their ward at branch meetings and relayed information back to nurses in their department who were unable to attend meetings.”

Lucy said the branch set out to ensure all nurses were educated and informed during the negotiation process.

“Our union bargaining campaign officers put together fact sheets on how the proposed changes would affect staff, which we distributed to all departments.

“The union communicated with all branch members via email and SMS to ensure all staff received the important facts.

“The EA bargaining process resulted in more staff becoming aware of what the EA is, its scope and their rights – and how to use the EA as a reference point when bringing up issues with management.

“Since the negotiations, many staff say they feel there is more dialogue and improved communication between staff and management.

“We are discussing with management the possibility of forming a joint consultative committee that would meet biannually.

“We would hold a branch meeting so members can freely discuss ideas and improvements they would like to see, then members of the branch executive would meet with management.

“The executive would relay members’ ideas in order to help management understand staff sentiment so they can work on making improvements to things that really matter to our nurses.”