Together, we fight to protect our rights – December 2005

For NSW nurses, 2005 has been a year of great wins and enormous challenges.

Across a wide spectrum of nursing – public and private hospitals, disabilities and aged care – our members have campaigned strongly this year and have been rewarded with decent and deserved pay rises and improved workplace conditions.

At the heart of these successes has been our tradition of sticking together and bargaining collectively. It is this credo of sticking together that the federal government is out to obliterate with its obnoxious new IR laws.

John Howard is hell-bent on replacing a system that has served this country well – employers and employees alike – for over 100 years. It has given working people a share of the benefits of economic prosperity when times are good and ensured that there are decent protections for people when times get tough.

If Howard has his way, collective bargaining will be replaced by a system of individual contracts that allow employers to unilaterally dictate pay and conditions to their employees.

Just because the government has put in place all the legal tools enabling employers to opt out of collective agreements with their employees doesn’t necessarily mean they will be used.

It is still possible, and vital, that nurses convince their employers that it is in their interests – as much as those of nurses – to collectively bargain. Without improved wages and conditions there will be no solution to the nurse shortage.

The WorkChoices legislation is written on the false premise that workers don’t want and have never wanted awards. This stands in stark contrast to 60 years of NSWNA conferences where nurses have consistently taken pride in their awards and called upon their representatives to improve them. They are a legacy created by generations of nurses that John Howard and his business friends wish to destroy.

Our right to a decent society is at stake

It is more than just the transformation of the workplace that is at stake here, it is about the very nature of our society.

An important aim of the government’s strategy is to limit the role of unions and deny us a leadership role in the workplace or the wider community, and to give free rein to business to control the national political agenda.

As a nurses’ union we’ve always taken a leader-ship role – not only in the workplace but also on the broader issues of public health and social equity. And all unions working together can claim credit for Medicare, industry superannuation, accessible education for our young and live-able pensions for our elderly – just a few of our achievements to improve society.

These things have never been given to us. They have been won by generations of ordinary Australians fighting for these rights through the labour movement.

What John Howard is attempting to do with these new laws is very, very serious. He has been captured by a corporate class that has no problems awarding itself hefty pay increases, regardless of managerial or corporate performance, yet hypocritically pontificates over the level of minimum wages.

If you closed your eyes and listened it would be difficult to distinguish between the government’s disgracefully dishonest WorkChoices ads and those of the Business Council of Australia parroting the government’s line. Certainly John Howard’s pre-election promise that he would govern for all Australians is looking hollow and deceitful.

The results nurses have achieved in the workplace this year are evidence of our effectiveness as a campaigning and organising union. We are capable and committed to defending the interests of nurses against any attacks. We are in this for the long haul.