NSW can afford improved ratios


Strong economic growth means the NSW government can afford to improve safe patient care through improved ratios and the federal government has no excuse for not protecting the penalty rates of the lowest paid.

Figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in March show that the Australian economy is buoyant. The national economy grew by 3 per cent in the December quarter – the third best quarterly growth in 28 years.

In NSW, economic growth is outpacing the rest of Australia with healthy budget surpluses forecast for the next four years.

Yet, the benefits of this strong economic growth are not being shared by all. Those same ABS figures showed that the amount of money going to wages fell by 0.5 per cent.

One economic commentator, Greg Jericho, points out that “the total amount of wages has been falling at the same time that profits rose faster in one quarter than they have for 40 years”.

These results are consistent with the latest OECD report on Australia which showed that in the decade of the mining boom from 2004 to 2014 the wealth of the lowest fifth of the population grew by 5 per cent while for the richest it surged by nearly 40 per cent.

Inequality has been growing rapidly in Australia and continues to do so.

It’s time to improve ratios

This is the economic backdrop to our claim for improved ratios in the public health system (see pp 8-13).

Seven years ago, chronic understaffing of nurses and midwives placed enormous pressure on our public health system and was the catalyst for our first nurse to patient ratios campaign.

NSW nurses and midwives won ratios in 2011 after strike action and bed closures convinced the ALP Governernment to act. Over 1800 FTE nurses were added to the NSW public health system with a funding injection of over $500 million.

However, all our subsequent Award claims to improve and expand ratios have been refused. Ratios in regional and rural hospitals were only part-won in 2011. These hospitals are still struggling to deliver high level patient safety through adequate nursing care. Specialties such as emergency departments, paediatrics and intensive care units are yet to receive nurse to patient ratios.

Year on year, the NSWNMA has lobbied the NSW Coalition government for improved and expanded minimum, mandated nurse to patient ratios as part of our public health system Award talks.

The Victorian and Queensland Governments have been convinced that ratios are so important for patient safety that they have enshrined them in legislation. It is time the NSW Government stopped denying their importance and instead expand and improve them to deliver safe patient care in this State.

Penalty rates must be protected

The decision by Fair Work Australia (FWA) to reduce penalty rates for workers in retail and hospitality is unconscionable and will only worsen the gaping divide between the haves and the have-nots. Women and young workers will take the brunt of this poor decision (see pp 16-19).

Workers in accommodation, food services and retail are already the very ones that have been left behind as inequality has widened.

It is natural and reasonable for workers in other low paid sectors like aged care to now fear for their penalty rates.

ACTU polling shows over two thirds of Australians disapprove of the FWA’s decision to cut penalty rates. Two thirds also want the government to change the laws to protect penalty rates.

FWA’s decision is typical of the economic policy – with its focus on reducing labour costs – that has driven inequality in Australia.

The latest economic figures show that greater economic growth does not necessarily translate into improved incomes for many working people.

Prime Minister Turnbull has an opportunity and a responsibility to respond to this attack on people’s incomes and should legislate to protect penalty rates.