Nurses and midwives will act if penalty rates cut

More than 13,000 of Australia’s nurses and midwives have had their say on the importance of penalty rates, with an overwhelming 93% warning they are prepared to take action to protect their penalty rates – over 60% said this would include stop work or strike action.

These are the results of a new national survey, conducted by the country’s largest health union, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF), asking about the effects of shift work on the lives of nurses, midwives and assistants in nursing, the importance of penalty rates in providing compensation for these effects and the impact any reduction in penalty rates would have on them.

The survey received 13,101 responses, with its key findings showing:

  • 92% of respondents currently work shifts outside regular Monday-Friday day-shift hours;
  • 90% reported that shift work affected their life outside work, particularly night and weekend shifts
  • 38.9% said penalty rates compensated for the effects of shift work on their lives outside work;
  • 49.2% said penalty rates at least partially compensated for the effects of shift work on their lives;
  • 87% indicated they would stop working shift work if penalty rates were removed or lowered;
  • 92.7% warned they would take action to protect their penalty rates with just over 60% indicating they would take stop work or strike action.

ANMF Federal Secretary, Lee Thomas, said the overwhelming response from members to the survey clearly demonstrates the importance of penalty rates to nurses and midwives in providing them with some compensation as they care for our loved ones and communities around the clock.

“Nurses and midwives deliver care 24/7, they must – this is how the health system survives,” Ms Thomas said today.

“While our members recognise this and dedicate themselves to their profession, nothing truly makes up for everything they miss – time with their children, families and friends and social and community activities.

“Thousands described the significant toll shift work has on their lives, especially on their families, their friendships and their health. They have told us that penalty rates make a big difference to these effects and allow them to bring at least some balance into their lives.

“It’s only fair and just that nurses and midwives are fairly compensated for working these unsociable hours, on weekends, public holidays and special days like Christmas, when they leave their own families and friends to care for others.

“Penalty rates and shift loadings make up a significant portion of a Registered Nurse (RN) or Midwife’s actual remuneration – cutting them would result in a substantial reduction in their take home pay. In fact, analysis conducted by the ANMF (SA Branch) has revealed that a one-third cut to penalty rates could reduce the pay of a Registered Nurse (Level 1, top pay increment) by $146 per week (-7.6%), with the total abolition of penalty rates causing a $439 weekly pay cut (-22.9%).

“Any reduction or removal of penalty rates or allowances, as a result of the Productivity Commission’s Inquiry into Workplace Relations, could lead to a significant number of our nurses, midwives and assistants in nursing no longer signing up for shift work. Undoubtedly, this would have serious ramifications on the amount of quality care they can deliver to Australians at all hours of the day and night.”

Comments from respondents included:

“Shift work is exhausting. It affects my social and personal life, health and fitness. I love nursing but if penalty rates are taken I’d leave the industry.”

“This month alone, I have only 1 weekend off. This weekend I’m working night shifts all weekend, leaving me no time at all to spend with my family or friends. Shift work, particularly afternoon and night shifts means that even days off can leave you exhausted.” 

“Health care workers put themselves out for others and work unsociable hours … this has physical and mental impacts on them. To suggest that they lose penalty rates is completely disrespectful to their dedication.”

“An attack on penalty rates will be devastating to nursing and is a real snub to all those that have fought for work conditions and fair reimbursement in the past. The Australian values that underpin compensating people for working irregular, unsociable hours is part of the core of our society. Fair go mate!”

Ms Thomas said the survey results provide a stark reminder to the Abbott Government that the ANMF and its members will fight hard to protect penalty rates and this will remain among the union’s key agenda issues in 2015.

The ANMF and its members will join the ACTU and other union members in a National Day of Action in capital cities and towns around the country tomorrow (Wednesday 4 March) – in simultaneous rallies against the Abbott Government’s industrial relations agenda – where, in NSW, nurses and midwives will participate in coordinated industrial action.

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