Member leaders played a vital role in negotiations.
NSWNMA members at Ramsay Health Care have overcome pandemic-related disruptions and obstacles to finalise a new, two-year enterprise agreement.
The NSWNMA started negotiating with Ramsay in April 2021 and staff voted to accept the company’s improved offer in October.
During this six-month period, COVID-19-related lockdowns in NSW forced a shift from face-to-face to Zoom meetings and created other campaign difficulties.
Despite this, a total of 12 Ramsay members from hospitals in Sydney and the regions joined with NSWNMA officials to coordinate the campaign and take part in negotiations.
These bargaining representatives from across NSW ensured members from all Ramsay hospitals had a voice in the campaign.
The new agreement protects all existing conditions and provides a pay and allowance increase of 3.5 per cent over two years with back pay to July 2021.
After the company withdrew its claims for cuts to nurses’ and midwives’ working conditions, Ramsay members voted to accept the agreement.
In the run-up to negotiations the NSWNMA surveyed members to find out what changes they wanted in the new agreement.
A record number of surveys were returned, showing members’ top concerns were improved staffing levels and improved pay.
Missed meal breaks and insufficient notice of rosters were also priorities to be addressed.
The NSWNMA drew up a set of claims focusing on staffing ratios, fair rostering and better pay.
Three negotiation meetings were held before the COVID-19 lockdown in June 2021, which then forced negotiations to go online.
Ramsay wanted cuts to conditions
NSWNMA General Secretary, Brett Holmes, said the meetings gave member leaders the opportunity to speak candidly about staffing and other concerns.
“Despite a hostile attitude from the company during negotiations, our bargaining reps raised many situations where staffing was an issue, backed by examples in support of the claims,” he said.
“During the campaign over 2200 Ramsay nurses and midwives signed a petition calling for staffing ratios, a safer skill mix, ACORN standards, the ability to take meal breaks and fair rostering.
“However, Ramsay flatly refused to consider any of our claims relating to ratios.
“They maintained that their existing staffing arrangements provided safe patient care but refused to provide information on the formula, citing ‘commercial-in-confidence’.”
Ramsay came to the table with their own demands for cuts to working conditions, including greater “flexibility” in rostering, but later withdrew them after members stood together to reject them.
The new two-year agreement will expire on 31 March 2023. It includes the following pay and allowance increases:
- 1.5 per cent increase backdated to the first pay period on or after 1 July 2021
- 0.5 per cent increase from the first pay period on or after 1 January 2022
- 1.5 per cent increase from the first pay period on or after I July 2022.
Ramsay is the largest private hospital operator in Australia, with 72 private hospitals and day surgery units.
‘A lot of people were happy to put their names to the petition, which was signed by over 2200 people.’— Deanna Hayes
COVID-19 lockdown hindered Ramsay negotiations
An NSWNMA member representative on the enterprise agreement (EA) bargaining committee, Deanna Hayes from St George Private Hospital, said COVID-19 made it harder for members to campaign for a better agreement.
“I think the public health regulations and general level of uncertainty during the pandemic made nurses less likely to take action to press their claims. People didn’t know what was happening to their hours, and how COVID-19 would impact the community.
“The COVID-19 lockdowns in NSW interrupted our bargaining process and forced us to meet with management online. COVID-19 caused a hiatus in the middle of negotiations.”
Deanna said it was disappointing the company “cried poor” and claimed it could not afford to pay a substantial wage increase, despite Ramsay’s share price rising through most of the negotiation period.
“Yes, some procedures were postponed, but every Ramsay nurse like me who got redeployed to vaccination hubs or rural areas had their costs covered by NSW Health. And a lot of private hospitals took public patients by agreement with NSW Health.”
According to the Australian Financial Review, Ramsay CEO Craig McNally’s pay tripled to $5.9 million in the 2021 financial year, and the company’s statutory profit is up 58 per cent despite lockdowns.
The Commonwealth government’s $1.3 billion rescue package more than compensated for bans on elective surgery, with Ramsay receiving almost $1 billion in subsidies from governments in Australia and Europe. Even without these subsidies, revenue was up 3.9 per cent.
Around 430 Ramsay nurses and midwives were deployed to support the public health system during the COVID-19 outbreak.
“They claimed Ramsay had their own method for working out safe staffing but wouldn’t say what this was, because it was ‘confidential’,” said Deanna.
“A lot of people were happy to put their names to our petition, which was signed by over 2200 people, because they don’t always get meal breaks due to inadequate staffing.
“They tell stories of being on night duty with just one other staff member and 20 post-op patients.”
She said the company was dismissive of these examples of staffing shortages that the bargaining reps passed on to them from their workplace colleagues.
“We tried to explain it to them numerous times, but they wouldn’t accept that what we were saying