International Nurses Day on 12 May was a day of protest for nurses and midwives employed by St Vincent’s Health Australia (SVHA) at two Sydney private hospitals.
Nurses and midwives from the Mater Hospital in North Sydney and St Vincent’s Private in Darlinghurst went on strike and held their first ever joint rally in Sydney on 12 May.
The International Nurses Day action was the latest step in their eight-month campaign for staffing ratios and pay rises that match inflation.
A bus load of Mater nurses and midwives travelled to Darlinghurst, where they were met by St Vincent’s Private nurses outside the hospital.
“As we got off the bus, the St Vincent’s nurses cheered and applauded us,” said Mary-Anne Renshaw, the Mater’s NSWNMA delegate.
‘Unless they give us ratios, they are not enabling us to achieve teamwork, best practice and safe practice.’
— Mary-Anne Renshaw, NSWNMA Mater Hospital delegate
“We walked across the street together to the rally in Green Park. Cars were honking their horns, even the ambulances were giving us toots with their sirens. There was so much camaraderie – it was fantastic.”
Nurses and midwives carried placards that said “Safe staffing saves lives”, “Safety over profit” and “If we are outside, something is wrong inside”.
It was the third strike by Mater and St Vincent’s Private nurses and midwives during the current campaign. In addition, departments at each hospital have held shorter lunchtime rallies.
The work stoppages follow near-unanimous votes in secret ballots for industrial action.
Mary-Anne said SVHA management had unreasonably rejected union claims on ratios and pay “without looking at the larger, broader and far-reaching effects of their decision.”
“They haven’t budged on anything we’ve asked for – they put the kibosh on every claim the moment we ask for it,” she said.
“That has only made us more determined to continue the campaign. It’s actually strengthened the solidarity between nurses at both hospitals.
“We are totally unified in our desire to achieve patient-focused teamwork using best and safest practice. Unless they give us ratios, they are not enabling us to achieve teamwork, best practice and safe practice.”
She said if management continued to reject ratios, nurses and midwives would leave to take jobs in the public sector where the state government has committed to introducing ratios.
Sydney’s biggest private hospital, Sydney Adventist, agreed to ratios last year.
Speaking at the International Nurses Day rally, secretary of the NSWNMA branch at St Vincent’s Private, Kate Westwood, congratulated
all members who joined the industrial action.
“It takes courage to seek change,” she said.
“Over the last eight months of our campaign we have learned a lot.
“We have strengthened our communication networks, united together in solidarity, met with political allies and now have a state government that is committed to rolling out ratios in our public hospitals.”
Kate said that during negotiations, member representatives had “delivered very compelling statements about workload burdens, moral duress, patient care and safety” to management.
Despite this, SVHA had offered nothing to address the “crushing workloads and unsafe staffing”.
“Despite our cries for help, the SVHA leadership team is choosing to ignore its nursing workforce and resist reform.”
Kate said the state Labor government’s commitment to mandatory ratios “has left me and my private hospital colleagues concerned we will be left behind”.
“We cannot afford to let our brilliant nurses leave us for the public system.”