Push for equal pay

Wage gap threatens safe staffing

Disability nurses will campaign to close the widening gap between general nursing salaries and their own.

Ageing, Disability and Home Care (ADHC) nurses say achieving wage parity with general nurses is essential to halt the exodus of staff from disability services.

Branches of the NSWNMA, representing ADHC nurses, voted to pursue the equal pay campaign. Disability nurses get, on average, about 7% less than Public Health System (PHS) nurses and midwives, so their push for wage parity is a rejection of the state government’s 2.5% limit on wage increases.

NSWNMA General Secretary Brett Holmes said the government legislated for a 2.5% ceiling on pay increases with no right of appeal to the independent Industrial Commission.

“It is a maximum 2.5% unless you agree to sell some of your award conditions. Even then you don’t get the increase until Treasury has accrued the savings,” Brett said.

“Disability nurses have been hit with a double whammy – the ceiling on wage increases plus an attempt to strip away their award entitlements as part of the general attack on public sector conditions.

“That means the income gap between them and PHS nurses will be even bigger if Premier O’Farrell gets his way.”

Some categories of ADHC nurses, such as Clinical Nurse Educator, are paid 15% less than their counterparts in PHS nursing, registered nurse Michael Grant, president of the NSWNMA branch at the Stockton Centre in Newcastle, said.

With about 380 clients and 400 nurses, the Stockton Centre is NSW’s biggest residential facility for people with severe intellectual and/or physical disabilities.

“Most classifications of disability nurses are about 7% behind general nursing,” Michael said.

“The pay gap is forcing experienced disability nurses to shift into general nursing to try to maintain their living standards. Our clients can’t afford to lose that amount of experience and expertise so we are demanding equal pay with general nurses without loss of award conditions.

“At Stockton Centre our FTE (full-time-equivalent) numbers are 25% down on the level of 2005-06 and we have to rely on casuals. We are really feeling the pressure and our clients are being put at increasing risk.

“The roster for my unit has quite a few shifts that don’t have a registered nurse, and the after-hours nurse manager has to look after multiple units overnight, which has a big impact on their own job.

“Many of our clients have multiple illnesses and disability issues, which makes for an awfully hard day for staff. It puts the clients at greater risk if we don’t have the appropriate clinical people on duty.”

Michael said ADHC was trying to attract more overseas nurses, with a job expo in New Zealand and recruitment efforts in the UK and Ireland.

“But how can Disability Services hope to attract staff with lower pay, and now potential cuts to award conditions?”

ADHC have even surveyed staff to try to find out what might encourage nurses to work past retirement.

“We want to get paid the same as other nurses, have our shifts appropriately staffed, and be able to finish our shifts more or less on schedule so we can spend time with our families.

Michael said the state government’s move to cut award conditions for ADHC nurses would speed up the departure of disability nurses from the sector.

“Barry O’Farrell has decided he is going to take a big slice of our award conditions on top of the pay restriction

“We could lose penalty rates on some afternoon shifts, up to two weeks of our annual holidays, all our annual leave loading and the FACS leave for short term emergencies, among other things.

“Our clients will suffer the impact of this, along with the nurses who care for them.”