A voice for change
Annual conference was a time to celebrate the magnificent wins of the past year but also a time to prepare for the challenges ahead.
What a year it has been.
We have just completed our 78th Annual Conference with some standout moments including an electrifying presentation by ex-Socceroo Craig Foster, thoughtful presentations from academics Mary Chiarella and James Buchan and appearances by the Health Minister Ryan Park and the Premier Chris Minns.
Annual Conference also gave us the opportunity to look back over a year of historic industrial actions taken across the public and private sectors that has led to tremendous victories.
After more than a decade of campaigning for nurse-to-patient ratios, we finally secured a commit-ment from the government to introduce safe staffing ratios in five key areas of our public health sector award. This commitment has now been formalised in a Memorandum of Understanding.
In aged care we won a 15 per cent pay rise for all RNs, ENs and AiNs, whether on the award or an enterprise agreement after a long and heroic campaign by our members. There is now a legal requirement for an RN on duty 24/7.
We are on the cusp of further gains such as mandated care minutes and we are fighting for a role for nurses in their enforcement.
In private hospitals we have won minimum staffing ratios at major private hospitals including Sydney Adventist Hospital, St Vincent’s Health Australia and Chris O’Brien Lifehouse.
While it is appropriate to celebrate the great achievements of the last 12 months it is not a time to sit on our laurels.
We have achieved a lot but there is much more to do.
In his presentation to annual conference Professor James Buchan outlined how the COVID-19 pandemic inflicted a “huge and unprecedented” level of health trauma on nurses worldwide.
His report concluded that safe staffing was essential to rebuilding health care workforces struck by COVID-19.
In NSW, the incoming Labor government has inherited a health system with a depleted and exhausted workforce.
When the previous Coalition government was in office it denied that nurses and midwives were leaving in droves.
We now know that they failed to fund 1,100 nursing positions for more than 12 months and they hid that between 2021 and 2022, 7678 nurses left NSW Health.
This is our point of departure as we go forward.
Building a culture focused on winning
In response, the Association is now developing our strategic plan to be launched in 2024.
This will set the roadmap for the next few years, offering a clear, unified direction based on our shared set of goals and values.
Building our collective strength will be as important as ever. We want to see more nursing and midwifery leaders across the healthcare system and at decision-making tables.
We will need to analyse the economic climate and assess our options for securing better pay rises, superannuation changes and affordable housing while ensuring that our work on important social justice issues like climate action continues.
We will encourage all members to engage on vital issues such as fair pay, decent, safe and respectful working conditions, and on how to improve leadership, educational and career opportunities for nurses and midwives across the state.
Workforce strategies will be vital: developing professional and industrial solutions to attract and retain our workforce, and to advance our professions.
A historic moment
I would like to acknowledge the passing of a historic motion at conference to appoint two Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander positions to the Association’s Council.
This will ensure that our work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members continues and they are represented and have an effective voice in their workplaces.
At our annual conference, just days after the date for the referendum on a Voice to Parliament was announced by the Prime Minister, Yes23 campaigner and MUA member Thomas Mayo and journalist Kerry O’Brien highlighted how a Voice will deliver practical change to help close the health gap.
“The Voice will save money by getting better outcomes for every dollar spent and it will save lives,” Thomas said.
In her address, ANMF federal secretary Annie Butler pointed out how nurses and midwives need to be listened to in our workplaces and how important it is to have a voice that is heard.
We agree, for us and for others. And so the NSWNMA will proudly support the referendum to establish an Indigenous Voice that is enshrined in the constitution.