Overworked and underpaid, nurses and midwives unleash their anger
A monster Sydney rally was just one of 48 demonstrations across NSW on 15 February during the first statewide nurses and midwives’ strike since 2013. About 150 hospitals took strike action on the day.
Sydney’s Macquarie Street was packed with nurses and midwives wearing masks and scrubs when NSWNMA members rallied outside parliament house to demand shift-by-shift ratios and a decent pay increase.
Thousands of nurses walked off the wards and assembled at hospitals across Sydney, Wollongong and the Central Coast, before boarding buses to take their message directly to the government of Premier Perrottet.
From the speakers’ podium outside parliament house, Nathan Moran, CEO of the Metropolitan Aboriginal Land Council, set the tone of the rally when he delivered a Welcome to Country on behalf of traditional owners.
“Today we stand in solidarity with the nurses and midwives union,” he declared. “We stand in support of you and hope you achieve the change you seek to get the required resources and hopefully a greater respect for the job you do – because you are vital to our people.”
He was followed by NSWNMA President, O’Bray Smith, who said nurses wanted political leaders to invest in the public health system, invest in nurses and midwives, invest in ratios, and stop the attacks on workers’ compensation.
“Then we will gladly return to the hospitals and do our jobs, but until then we’re here for the long fight,” she said.
O’Bray said she was struck by the fact that politicians who had “no background in health, no health experience and no understanding of healthcare” – including the premier – were making decisions that profoundly impacted nurses’ working lives.
She told the crowd that Association representatives had met health Minister Brad Hazzard for so-called “crisis talks” the previous day.
He had offered nurses and midwives nothing but “a pat on the back”.
“Make no mistake, those crisis talks were merely a tick-box so they could go to the Industrial Relations Commission and the media and say, ‘Oh, we tried.’”
“The minister was very quick to tell us that one third of the budget goes towards health and he couldn’t possibly afford more.
“But Minister, ratios save lives, decrease morbidity and mortality, AND reduce the health budget – research has shown that.”
“An outlay now will save lives and money in the future, but they’re too short-sighted to see it.”
We’re going to fight until we win
NSWNMA General Secretary, Brett Holmes, told the rally it was “heart-warming” to see such strong support for the strike.
“There has been an amazing turnout at our branches to vote in favour of this action. That tells me you’re ready to fight and you’re ready to stay fighting until we win,” he said.
“I know each and every one of you has been doing it really tough.
“There are so many in our community, including many inside (Parliament House) who have had the opportunity to hide away and try to stay safe during the pandemic.
“None of you had that choice and in my mind that gives you the right to stand up, speak out and demand better from this government.
“Let us not forget what this premier did to you in 2020.
“This premier said, ‘We want you to go to work, put your life on the line, put your family’s life on the line’ – this is all before we had the magical vaccinations – and then he said, ‘Well bugger you, you ought to take a pay cut as well.’”
Brett added: “Not only do you deserve to go to work with the right number of nurses and mid-wives to look after the right numbers of patients, but you deserve a pay rise as well.”
Time for the premier to listen
NSWNMA Assistant General Secretary, Shaye Candish, shared a story from an NSWNMA member in a rural hospital, who wrote:
“The elderly are being made to wait in their own faeces and urine, and as an AiN in a small rural town I’m told to attend to the ones that need it more.
“This should not be the case. We are the only people some patients see all day and we’re running in and out like a chook with its head chopped off.”
Shaye said the state govern-ment had praised nurses and midwives, while ignoring the need for safe staffing and better pay and conditions to support the health workforce.
Premier Perrottet had also repeatedly claimed that ‘the system is coping’.
“We know for a fact the system is not coping and the only reason we have gotten through these last two years is because of your hard work and steadfast commitment to your patients,” Shaye told the crowd.
She said it was time the premier listened to nurses and midwives.
We are not going away until our demands are met. We will come back time and time again and continue to expose the lies and misinformation that this government insists on telling.
“We will come back bigger and angrier each time we are ignored.
“Unless you want to see us here again, Premier, listen to all of us and meet our demands.”
She called on the government to:
- implement shift-by-shift ratios for safe patient care
- commit to a fair pay rise above 2.5% and introduce a COVID-19 allowance
- withdraw the amendment to the Workers’ Compensation Act that would force health workers to prove they contracted COVID-19 at work.