A Special General Meeting of NSWNMA members in July voted overwhelmingly to continue the public sector ratios and pay campaign with “sustained and escalating” industrial action.
The meeting authorised NSWNMA Council to initiate industrial action “when necessary, via an e-vote of the public sector membership, at times and locations to be determined in consultation with public sector branches”.
The meeting at Sydney Town Hall was also broadcast online and to regional gatherings on the Central Coast, and at Coffs Harbour, Newcastle, Tamworth, Tweed Heads, Wagga Wagga and Wollongong.
It coincided with strikes by 81 public sector branches, which had voted for work stoppages of up to 24 hours duration.
A further 21 public sector branches voted in support of strike action to attend the meeting, but were too short-staffed to safely do so.
A resolution adopted by the meeting said the NSW Government had failed to address systemic workload and workplace health and safety issues, which impacted on patient safety.
The resolution said the government’s announcement of an “additional” 10,148 FTE staff lacked transparency, with “minimal breakdown between health professions or clarity on where they will be allocated”.
It welcomed the government’s proposed incentives for nurses to work in regional, rural and remote sites, but noted that “until workloads are safe on every shift, this will not be sufficient to ensure safe patient care and safe professional practice”.
NSWNMA General Secretary Brett Holmes told the meeting that the union leadership “acknowledge the shared frustrations and the ongoing sacrifices being made shift after shift”.
“We share in that frustration and remain committed to supporting you, to hearing you and to fighting alongside you every step of the way.”
He said the two statewide strikes earlier in 2022 had forced the NSW Government to meet NSWNMA representatives “and contemplate how they could fix the shameful short-staffing crisis”.
Government admits problems, avoids solutions
Between February and May, Brett and other NSWNMA officials, including Assistant General Secretary Shaye Candish, and Director, Strategy and Transformation Michael Whaites, met Premier Dominic Perrottet, Health Minister Brad Hazzard, Finance and Employee Relations Minister Damien Tudehope and Regional Health Minister Bronnie Taylor.
“Throughout these discussions, the NSW Government conceded a review of the ‘Nursing Hours Per Patient Day’ model was needed, along with a focus on staffing within emergency departments, intensive care units and maternity services,” Brett said.
“However, Brad Hazzard has made it clear he does not believe in ratios.
“He does understand that the nursing-hours-per-patient-day system needs fixing but he has yet to engage in a real discussion about how to fix it.
“Nor has he empowered the Ministry of Health staff to engage in a real discussion about how to fix it.”
Michael Whaites told the meeting that the ministry would not even discuss the union’s claims to make existing entitlements – such as two days off in a row and a meal break on night shift – enforceable.
He said the ministry rejected payment of on-call allowances for nurse managers, a minimum of three nurses in multi-purpose services 24/7, and a 15-minute break when wearing PPE.
The ministry agreed to only three minor variations in the award, “none of which will significantly change what occurs in the workplace”.
The Ministry agreed to change the definition of “flight nurse”; clarify that parental leave entitlements apply to “subsequent” episodes, not just the second; and ensure the correct NSW Health policies and other relevant Acts are correctly referenced in the Award.