The Guardian 20 April, 2005

"Public health:
there's no fix without nurses"


Lamingtons were the order of the day as the NSW Pensioners Association held a cake stall in front of Parliament House to raise money to fund a decent pay rise for the state's nurses.

The stall was held to highlight the "Public health: there's no fix without nurses" campaign being run by the NSW Nurses' Association (NSWNA).

The action was just one of dozens of rallies and stop-work meetings being held around the state as nurses step-up their campaign demanding a pay rise in line with those offered by the state government to other public hospital employees.

The dispute began last December when NSW nurses rejected an offer of a three-per-cent wage rise each year for the next four years. This offer was significantly lower than those made to other public hospital staff such as therapists, cleaners and laboratory scientists.

The NSWNA says the government's offer is a deliberate attempt to claw back the significant gains in pay equity and conditions nurses have made during the last five years

The NSWNA offered two examples to illustrate how seriously the offer would undermine their value:

  • On June 30, 2004, a full-time Registered Nurse Year 8 was still earning $63 less than a hospital Scientific Officer Year 8. Under the government's new offer that difference would blow out to $120 per week by January 2008.

  • In 2004 a Year 8 RN was earning $14 per week more than a Physiotherapist Year 7. During the life of the new agreement the RN would end up more than $50 behind.

    At extraordinary branch meetings being held around the state the nurses are also voting to demand stronger government compliance to their existing Award entitlements, such as their right to refuse unreasonably high amounts of overtime, excessive "on call" time, double shifts and unsafe workloads.

    One step forward

    NSW Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) awarded 25,000 aged care nurses in the private system an immediate six percent pay rise followed by another six per cent from March 2006. These rises follow an 11 per cent increase achieved over the last two years.

    The NSWNA said the decision meant that although the pay gap between aged care nurses would not be eliminated it would be significantly reduced.

    The IR case was aimed not only at low nurse wages in the sector, but also reducing excessive workloads, both of which are creating a staffing crisis in the residential aged care sector.

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