Nurses and midwives’ wages curse uncovered in NSW

Nurses and midwives in NSW are worse off now than over a decade ago, according to a new report that lays bare years of neglect levelled against the predominately female workforce.

The report, ‘Escaping NSW Treasury’s Curse’by labour market and industrial relations expert, Professor John Buchanan, details compelling evidence for a one-year 15% pay increase for public sector nurses and midwives by examining historical wage movements and shifts within the labour market.

NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) General Secretary, Shaye Candish, said Professor Buchanan’s analysis of the decade-long wage suppression and its impact was profound.

“The pay disparity paints a dire picture of just how far behind nurses and midwives’ wages are thanks to the former government’s wages policy and the impact of inflation. In NSW, nurses and midwives are now the second worst paid in the country when starting their career,” said Ms Candish.

“When compared to Queensland, new graduates are 18% worse off, while the highest level registered nurses are 8% behind on pay.

“Public sector workers like teachers, paramedics and firefighters are paid significantly more than entry level nurses and midwives. Their pay also lags behind almost all other professional and male dominated non-professional occupations.

“The situation is even more bleak when cost of living pressures are taken into account. Sydney is the most expensive city to live in, yet the nurses and midwives on whom they rely on are struggling to pay rent and mortgages.”

University of Sydney Business School’s Professor Buchanan said the data showed nurses and midwives’ wages had fallen by over 10% in real terms during the last four years.

“Following the post-COVID inflation spike of 2021-2023, all real wage gains achieved over the previous decade were eliminated. As a result, the real pay of NSW nurses and midwives today is even lower than it was before the wage cap was introduced,” said Professor Buchanan.

“While nurses and midwives, like most Australian workers, have contributed to significant growth in productivity over the last 25 years, they have only partly shared in the benefits. The economy can afford to better share prosperity with workers.

“In light of this, it is unsurprising the nursing labour market in NSW is under severe stress. The labour market is sending very clear signals – it is time to listen and act.”

Last month, the NSWNMA served its log of claims on the state government seeking a 15% wage rise for nurses and midwives, improvements to conditions including increases to night shift penalty rates and sick leave, and additional funding for minimum staffing ratios. The first negotiation meeting to discuss the 2024 Award claim was held this week.

NSWNMA Assistant General Secretary, Michael Whaites, said the entire 2024 Award claim was justified and necessary.

“Our members’ cost of living is at 2024 prices, but they’re earning 2007 wages. They’re working so hard to make ends meet, but the goal posts are racing away from them. It’s time to make this right,” said Mr Whaites.

“Professor Buchanan has provided a clear and achievable way forward. His formulation reflects the need to overcome the legacies of wage suppression by former Liberal governments.

“The report highlights that there have been heavy losses from both inflation and the unfair distribution of previous productivity gains.

“It’s clear that if this inequity isn’t addressed, our state’s nursing and midwifery workforce will continue its bleak trajectory of high staff turnover, workforce fatigue and compromised patient care, as management struggles to fill the gaps.

“Low wages are driving inefficiencies in the healthcare system through high cost of agency, overtime and staff replacement as nurses and midwives leave the system, and at the end of the day it’s our patients that are missing out,” Mr Whaites concluded.

The Association has also urged the NSW Treasurer to allocate further funding to the Safe Staffing policy in the upcoming state budget, to ensure transparent, accountable and enforceable shift by shift nurse-to-patient ratios can be implemented across all wards and units, in all NSW public hospitals.

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