Stores happy to support nurses
Wollongong nurse Eddie Barry is heartened by local business support for the campaign to overturn wage cuts.
Nurse Eddie Barry says shopkeepers in the Wollongong area have responded “positively and without exception” when asked to display the NSWNMA’s “Stop the Wage Freeze” posters.
The posters, which encourage people to patronise stores that support the union campaign, have “gone over really well with the public,” Eddie says.
“It’s actually been a pleasurable experience going around speaking to shopkeepers and the general public.
“People love to support people who are supporting them. They understand it must be extremely stressful for us as we work to keep them safe during Covid. And if they don’t understand, I tell them.”
Eddie is a mental health nurse and vice-president of the Illawarra Shoalhaven mental health branch of the NSWNMA.
He says the state government “is relying on the fact that a lot of nurses are big hearted and don’t put their own interests first”.
“The government’s line is that we need to forgo a pay rise for the sake of the economy and because lots of other people have lost their jobs.
“But as the Global Financial Crisis of 2007–08 showed, the economies that emerge quickest from an economic downturn are those that stimulate spending.”
Nurses are important customers
“Euromoney magazine gave Kevin Rudd’s treasurer, Wayne Swan, the title of finance minister of the year in 2011 because the government kept Australia out of recession by stimulating spending.
“The last thing we need is a government that won’t learn from the past and follow the lead of previous Labor governments in stimulating the economy.
“If the government needs more money and wants to be fiscally responsible, it could tax some of the companies making super profits – as Kevin Rudd wanted to do with the mining companies.”
He says shopkeepers understand that public employees such as nurses are important customers who will have less money to spend in their stores if wages are cut.
“Don’t buy into the government’s line that asking for the wage increase we were ‘guaranteed’ is being selfish.
“It’s not selfish to protect local businesses that need us to keep spending.
“It’s not selfish to ensure our kids see nursing as a financially viable vocation to enter.
“People aren’t going to go into nursing unless they feel it is remunerated as a tertiary- qualified profession.
“If we go down the path of America, where wages are always ground down, then nursing will be seen as the poor cousin of the other health disciplines.”
No guarantees it is a one-off
Eddie notes that Premier Berejiklian has refused to say when the pay freeze will be lifted and refused to guarantee that this year’s 2.5 per cent will be paid next year.
“Even if this freeze was for one year, I wouldn’t be banking on Gladys giving us five per cent next year,” he says.
As a mental health nurse, Eddie is not directly caring for Covid-19 patients, however, the pandemic has indirectly raised levels of anxiety and stress in his unit because patients, who have a diminished capacity for social distancing, are prevented from leaving hospital for short breaks.
“They really look forward to a half-hour break, so missing out makes it hard for them and hard for us.
“It makes for a lot of anxiety and creates tensions among patients, and between patients and staff. “Nurses will bear the brunt of increased tension.
“When a duress alarm in a mental health unit goes off, nurses are the only discipline who actually respond.
“We the only tertiary-qualified professionals expected to deal with those situations on our own.
“And on top of dealing with those risks they now want to freeze our wages.”