A survey reveals widespread nurse dissatisfaction with NSW public health rosters.
It’s horrible to not know what’s happening only two weeks away. I can’t plan anything.”
That comment is typical of responses to a sample survey conducted by the NSWNMA which aimed to find out how public health system rosters are arranged and what members think of them.
Eighty per cent of respondents were registered nurses and/or midwives and the biggest group – 28 per cent – worked in medical or surgical wards.
More than 78 per cent of members said they wanted their rosters to be published four weeks or more in advance.
However, four-week rosters applied to only 18.92 per cent of members. Even fewer – 8.59 per cent – enjoyed rosters more than four weeks in advance.
The majority of members were saddled with rosters of two weeks or less.
“Most of the time they are not done within the two weeks before the current roster ends,” wrote one nurse. “More often than not rosters are taken back and changed after being gazetted.”
Another nurse described the roster system as “ridiculous” and said she was put on five, 12-hour night shifts in eight days. “I have to change my permanent position to casual as it is not the first time I have had a roster like that.”
Many nurses pointed out that inadequate notice of rosters made it almost impossible to plan to attend school events.
A member who called for rosters to be published one to two months in advance, wrote: “It is so difficult to plan anything with only two weeks’ notice. Then lots of emergency changes to the roster have to be negotiated, meaning the manager gets swamped and annoyed, then responds by limiting roster changes.”
Other nurses said the short notice for rosters played havoc with family commitments, made it difficult to commit to university timetables and made it hard to stick to an exercise routine.
“There is no consideration in my workplace around important times like Christmas and Easter,” complained one member. “The managers refuse to release a roster early so you can plan something properly. It is very hard to explain this to your family.”
Some nurses said their managers made it easier to cope with short-notice rosters. Wrote one: “it can be difficult being a shift worker, but if your manager is open to reasonable and honest requests it can be worked out.”
More than 22 per cent of members said they were unaware of any process that might allow them to request changes to the roster after it is published.
A slim majority – 52.62 per cent – said a formal process existed to request roster changes and it was applied.
Short roster notice hinders planning
Shania Ali would still be nursing full-time if hospitals were required to give longer notice when publishing rosters.
The Sydney-based RN frequently needs to visit her sick father in Queensland.
The current two-week minimum notice for displaying rosters did not give her enough time to arrange shift swaps with colleagues at a major teaching hospital.
Shania had to take up part-time work with set shifts supplemented by casual shifts at a second hospital.
“My father is quite sick and I need to attend medical appointments with him. The two-week notice roster meant it was too late if I needed to swap shifts with anyone,” she says.
“I would look at the roster and by the time I flagged someone down they would already have made plans.
“If we had a month’s notice like the union is seeking I could have managed it and stayed full time.”
The limited notice also made it near impossible for Shania to purchase cheaper air tickets in advance.
“I once paid $300 just to fly to Brisbane one way. Sometimes I had to drive up one day and drive back the next.”
She also misses out on the penalty rates and annual leave that went with her full-time role.
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