Ramsay backs down on cuts after staff resistance
Ramsay management came to the bargaining table with their own claims to downgrade nurses and midwives’ working conditions.
Amid the pandemic, Australia’s biggest private hospital operator, Ramsay Health Care, opened negotiations with the NSWNMA by demanding greater “flexibility” in rostering and other measures.
The flexibility, however, was all in the company’s favour.
Ramsay HR sought the right to change rosters with as little as 24 hours’ notice and to roster contracted hours over an eight-week period instead of the current two weeks.
It also wanted:
- reduced breaks between shifts after overtime from the current 10 hours after overtime to eight hours
- the right to direct staff to take annual leave with just two weeks’ notice during periods of low activity
- further restrictions to when meal breaks can be taken
- an increase in the kilometre range from 20 km to 50 km when asked to work at another site.
Jacky Soucoulis, a theatre nurse in Sydney’s Inner West, was one of 12 NSWNMA members to take part in the negotiations.
She said management was unable to explain how its “flexible” rostering proposal would work.
“It didn’t surprise me that they were trying to take people’s conditions away from them. They seem to care only about their bottom dollar and not their staff,” she said.
“I think they were trying to avoid paying overtime. I wouldn’t be surprised if it raises its head during the next EA.
“It’s not right to force you to take a day off when it only suits the company.
“Nor is it right to work a two-week period and still not get your contracted hours in, so you have to claim annual leave to get
Ramsay withdrew its demands at the third round of negotiations.
Members ‘visual’ presence at talks.
Management representatives arrived at that meeting to find the negotiation room at North Shore Private Hospital packed with posters showing nurses holding signs in support of the union’s log of claims.
The signs included “Ratios Save Lives”, “Ratios Not KPIs”, “Enough Staff to Cover Meal Breaks”, “People Before Profit”, “In Charge Without a Patient Load”, and “No to Forced Roster Changes”.
“The staffing issue meant a lot to us because we were fighting for ourselves, our colleagues and our patients to be safe.
“Members have consistently rated staffing as one of their top concerns for a number of years.”
She said management representatives also ignored evidence from NSWNMA members of EA breaches at some hospitals.
“For example, when members raised the issue of some hospitals refusing to pay for missed meal breaks, the company denied such practices ever happened – even when they were given concrete examples.
“Or they claimed these were rare and isolated site issues.”
The COVID-19 lockdown in Greater Sydney and elsewhere put an end to face-to-face negotiations, which were followed by one Zoom negotiation.
Jacky said the lockdown weakened the campaign and made it easier for Ramsay to wind up negotiations.
“Before the lockdown we managed to get over 2200 Ramsay nurses to hand-sign a petition calling for guaranteed safe staffing ratios, safe skill mix, ACORN theatre standards, fair rostering and the ability to take meal breaks.”
Hospital branch meetings also relied on Zoom meetings and online chat services.
Jacky used a WhatsApp group for her branch members, to keep them informed of developments in bargaining meetings.
She said some members were left confused by the company’s communications, especially about the pay offer, thinking it was a 3.5 per cent one-off payment. In fact, it is to be paid between July 2021 and July 2022.
“This shows the need for crystal clear communications,” Jacky said.