Lismore has faced a series of challenges, including COVID, floods, and a rising cost of living, resembling a saga of biblical proportions. Throughout these adversities, nurses and midwives in private and public hospitals, along with health services, have stood as the bedrock of the community. Despite such dedication, a surprising setback occurred late last year at St Vincent’s Private Hospital in Lismore, where a promising pay offer was abruptly withdrawn and replaced with an inferior one.
The initial shock has transformed into unwavering resolve, prompting the branch to mobilize within and seek community support for a fair pay deal. In this edition of Branch Beat, we explore how the branch garnered backing from staff, the community, local media, politicians, and colleagues from other hospitals in their pursuit of a livable pay rise.
Challenges Faced by St Vincent’s Private Hospital Branch in Lismore:
Last year, St Vincent’s Private Hospital in Lismore withdrew an offer that would have granted staff a 4% pay rise from October 2023 and back pay of 2.53% from October 2022. This unexpected move blindsided the staff, who had already made plans for the holiday season based on the anticipated pay increase.
The previous Enterprise Agreement expired in October 2022, but negotiations were delayed until August 2023. Nursing staff at the day surgery hospital, with over 84 beds, had not received a pay rise since October 2021. The decision to withdraw the pay rise offer came from the newly appointed CEO, offering only a 2.3% increase, backdated to July 2023.
Branch Action and Community Support:
In response, branch members actively organized, creating a WhatsApp group for communication and circulating a petition signed by 170 members and supporters. The petition, expressing discontent with the withdrawal of the pay offer, was sent to the CEO, the board, and the bishop.
A rally held on January 8 at the Lismore Transit Centre saw more than 50 members expressing their dissatisfaction with the management’s failure to reinstate the original offer. Chants such as “COVID, floods; we’ve had our share. Pay us what we know is fair” echoed the sentiments of the protesting nurses.
Media Coverage and Community Backing:
The rally garnered significant media coverage from outlets like the Daily Telegraph, ABC radio, NBN News Channel 7, Lismore City News, and the Lismore news site Echo. The ALP member for Lismore, Janelle Saffin, released a statement expressing solidarity with St Vincent’s nurses and encouraging the hospital to return to the negotiating table.
The support from the community and media coverage has emboldened the branch members to persist in their fight for a fair deal. With nearly two-and-a-half years without a pay rise and the soaring cost of living, St Vincent’s nurses face financial challenges, making the pursuit of a fair deal crucial.