Praise won’t pay the bills – August 2008

With a pay rise won in the Public Health System, the NSWNA now turns to private hospitals. Pay parity and recognition for skills and education will be top priorities.

A comprehensive survey of our members in private hospitals (see page 12) suggests that similar issues exist in the private hospitals sector as in public hospitals and nurses share the same concerns about pay, workloads, recognition for skills and education and for working anti-social hours that keep them away from their families in ways other workers don’t have to contend with.

Most of the agreements we have with the large private hospital employers expire in 2008 and we are well under way in our campaign to ensure nurses in these establishments are recognised and rewarded for their contribution.

I urge all nurses in private hospital workplaces to get involved in the campaign and ensure your colleagues have joined the Association so we enter those talks with one voice and with all the strength that a collective approach brings.

As one member told us, a pat on the back from the employer is fine but praise doesn’t pay the bills and recognition should be translated into better pay and conditions.

Public wants WorkChoices out now

Trends in Australian Political Opinion, a study conducted by the Australian National University, has tracked voter sentiment since the 1980s.

Its findings about community attitudes to union and employer power are instructive. Their most recent survey following the 2007 election shows that only 37% of Australians believe unions have too much power, compared to 69% that think employers have too much power.

These figures have much deeper roots than as a response to WorkChoices. They are trends that have been in play since 1967 when 60% thought unions had too much power and 52% thought employers had too much power.

The ANU study also shows how decisive an issue industrial relations was at the last election: it went from being the least important economic issue (2%) to being the most important (16%).

If recent polling by the ACTU is anything to go by these sentiments remain strong since the last Federal election.

The online poll conducted by Galaxy found that 73% of voters believe the Government should move now to restore unfair dismissal laws for businesses with less than 100 staff. Sixty-nine percent want collective bargaining rights restored. Seventy-seven percent agree an umpire should be able to step in and arbitrate in a dispute.

The ANU study shows how out of touch the Howard Government was on community attitudes towards unions and rights at work. The election confirmed this in dramatic style.

There are lessons in the ANU and ACTU research that are also relevant for the Rudd Government. The Galaxy poll shows overwhelming support for the immediate scrapping of WorkChoices and the implementation of Labor’s IR policy among people who voted ALP last year.

Almost nine in 10 (89%) ALP voters oppose a delay in laws to improve protection from unfair dismissal and 85% of ALP voters oppose a delay in restoring workers’ rights to collective bargaining.

There is no doubt the corridors of Canberra have been full of business lobbyists urging the Government to delay or undermine their promise to roll back WorkChoices.

The Rudd Government would be wise to heed the broader range of democratic voices that want stronger workplace rights and greater checks on employer power.

In this issue of The Lamp we report that the Rudd Government has done away with the worst aspects of Howard’s laws, such as AWAs, but there are many unconscionable measures such as the profoundly anti-democratic Australian Building and Construction Commission, which remain (see page 24).

Unions, including the NSWNA, campaigned strongly at the last election to have WorkChoices scrapped. Labor should bear in mind that we will continue to do this irrespective of who is in government.