A special conference of NSW Nurses and Midwives Association (NSWNMA) workplace delegates, held in Sydney tonight (16 July), has unanimously voted to hold a statewide public hospital and community health service nurses and midwives strike next Wednesday, 24 July.
The special delegates’ conference was held in accordance with the NSWNMA’s rule 41, which states that:
“In cases of emergency (the NSWNMA) Council may convene a Special Conference of delegates to be held not earlier than 14 days after notification of the business to be submitted to such conference has been given to all branches.”
Striking nurses and midwives will attend a special general meeting of the NSWNMA to protest against the State Government’s rejection of their claim for guaranteed, safe nurse staffing levels in all public hospitals and community health services and equal ratios in all hospitals around the State.
NSWNMA workplace branches will now vote over the next three days – 17, 18 and 19 July – on whether to join next Wednesday’s strike and special general meeting of members.
NSWNMA strike and special general meeting details
Strike date: Wednesday, 24 July 2013
Meeting time: 11.30am – 1.00pm
Sydney Olympic Park Sports Centre, Sydney Olympic Park
With live webcast to the following 17 regional centres:
Albury, Broken Hill, Coffs Harbour, Dubbo, Goulburn, Grafton, Griffith, Kempsey, Lismore, Merimbula, Nowra, Orange, Port Macquarie, Queanbeyan, Tamworth, Tweed Heads, Wagga Wagga
(Full venue details will be provided before next Wednesday.)
NSWNMA general secretary, Brett Holmes, said nurses and midwives are furious about the O’Farrell State Government’s failure to improve and extend safer nurse-to-patient ratios and the arrogant way the O’Farrell Government has just imposed its will through dictatorial legislation.
“The State Government is clearly using its dictatorial industrial relations laws and court action to enforce a sub-standard award on NSW nurses and midwives. It is unbelievable behaviour and nurses and midwives have, frankly, had enough of their opinions and clinical experience being ignored and their workplace and bargaining rights being trampled on in this way.
“The State Government will probably get its way in the short term, but the new award it’s imposing only lasts for 12 months, until 30 June next year – less than 12 months before the 2015 State election is due. Bludgeoning people into submission, as the O’Farrell Government is doing this time, only creates resentment, which is what the State Government has certainly created within the nursing and midwifery community.
“Next Wednesday’s nurses and midwives strike is the start of an ongoing industrial and community campaign over the next 12 months to secure guaranteed, safer nurse staffing in all public hospitals and community health services and all clinical units in those hospitals.”
Children’s wards, EDs, community health services, etc
The first round of enforceable, minimum nurse-to-patient ratios were introduced into general medical and surgical wards in most NSW hospitals as part of the 2010-11 award negotiated between the NSWNMA and former Labor government.
In this second round the NSWNMA wants the O’Farrell Government to finish this landmark staffing reform by extending the ratios or guaranteed minimum staffing to all clinical units, including emergency departments, children’s wards, intensive care units, community health services and smaller hospitals. It also wants all hospitals to be treated equally, so that the nurse-to-patient ratios are the same in each hospital around the State.
“People are surprised and shocked to know that minimum staffing levels are currently not guaranteed in NSW hospitals for seriously ill infants and children. No right-thinking person could think that state of affairs should continue,” Mr Holmes said.
“And what about emergency departments and other high pressure areas such as intensive care units? They also don’t have guaranteed minimum staffing levels at the moment. Things usually work okay, because hardworking and responsible clinicians ensure they do. But to continue leaving it to chance is not acceptable. Minimum safe staffing must be guaranteed and enforceable. When nurses are away they must be replaced. When bed numbers rise more nurses must be brought in.
“It’s also time to guarantee safer staffing levels in the State’s smaller country hospitals and multipurpose services. Rural and regional people, who do not have immediate access to the major hospitals and all the bells and whistles that go with them, should also have the same guaranteed nursing and midwifery ratios as the big Sydney hospitals. In fact, because these hospitals don’t have the same level of other resources as the larger hospitals, there is an even stronger case for them having guaranteed safer staffing resources to compensate.
“Governments and health administrators are also always going on about the importance of primary health care and doing more to keep people out of hospital and minimising unnecessary hospital admissions. Community health services, including community mental health services, are vital to achieving this goal. However, they can’t do it if nurses and midwives are stretched to the limit. That is why it is now also time to introduce stricter, enforceable staffing arrangements in community health services, which include a reasonable balance between face-to-face patient or client time and the time required for things like travel, research and administration.
“Finally, the 2013-14 NSW budget papers confirm there is no financial reason for the O’Farrell Government to keep depriving seriously ill children, emergency departments, high dependency units, community health services and rural hospitals and multipurpose services of safer, mandated minimum nursing staff levels.
“Deficit and debt levels are so miniscule that there is no excuse for NSW delaying the next stage of nurse staffing reform in our public hospitals and community health services.
“The 2013-14 budget papers also show that claims by the State treasurer that the government will have to cut 8000 jobs unless they can absorb the superannuation increase in the 2.5 per cent wages cap are rubbish
“The State Government calls its commitment to the Gonski education reforms and the National Disability Insurance Scheme ‘transformative policy’ (2013-14 NSW Budget Paper 2, p. 1-7), Well, the introduction of mandated, minimum nurse-to-patient ratios in public hospitals, and the introduction of mandated safer nursing and midwifery staffing arrangements in community health services, is also ‘transformative policy’ and the State Government should get on with it,” Mr Holmes said.
Nurse-to-patient ratios – background information
The Statewide Ratios put patient safety first campaign was launched in Sydney on Tuesday, 19 March. A record 214 NSWNMA branches, representing more than 30,000 public-sector nurses and midwives throughout NSW, have endorsed the NSWNMA’s ratios and wages claim, which was then formally presented to the State Government, through the Health Ministry, on March 11.
The current Public Health System Nurses & Midwives (State) Award expired on 30 Jun 2013.
A key feature of the 2013 claim is guaranteed, safer nursing and midwifery levels for seriously ill children, emergency departments, high dependency units and rural hospitals and multipurpose services, and safer nursing and midwifery staffing arrangements in community health services.
The claim also includes two 2.5 per cent per year payrises, which will provide the majority of experienced, full-time nurses and midwives with a payrise of more than $70.00 per week, or more than $3800.00 per year, by July 2014.
In mid-May the State Government formally responded to the NSWNMA claim with an unacceptable offer for a new wages and conditions agreement. At the NSWNMA’s bimonthly Committee of Delegates meeting, on 21 May, workplace delegates from around the State rejected the inadequate offer. They are angry the O’Farrell Government is:
• refusing to extend mandated minimum nurse-to-patient ratios to seriously ill children, emergency departments, high dependency units and rural hospitals and multipurpose services, and provide safer nursing and midwifery staffing arrangements in community health services;
• seeking to further discount the annual 2.5 per cent payrise to absorb the scheduled 0.25 per cent rise in compulsory employer superannuation from 1 July 2013; and
• using dictatorial industrial relations powers to override the rights at work of public health system nurses and midwives.
The State Government is expected to get the NSW Industrial Relations Commission (NSW IRC) to this Friday, 19 July, make a new pay and conditions award for nurses and midwives, based on this sub-standard offer. Dictatorial industrial relations laws introduced by the O’Farrell Government, since its election in March 2011, have significantly reduced the independence of the NSW IRC in these matters.
However, the NSW IRC recently ruled that the State Government could not discount the 2.5 per cent annual pay rise to absorb the superannuation increase. The State Government then legislated, in late June, to further restrict the powers of the NSW IRC in these matters and has also indicated it will appeal the decision.
Ph: 02 8595 1234