Stronger branch helps win more staff
At Shoalhaven Hospital, getting management to employ more nurses has gone hand in hand with building a stronger branch of the NSWNMA.
Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District has agreed to fund additional nursing positions in Shoalhaven Hospital’s emergency department – something the branch had sought for two years.
The hospital is at Nowra on the NSW South Coast.
The breakthrough came after more nurses joined the NSWNMA and got involved in branch activities.
Greater membership involvement strengthened the branch’s bargaining power. It felt confident enough to discuss action to close unfunded beds in the ED’s rapid assessment zone (RAZ).
However, industrial action was not needed because management agreed to recruit 2.4 additional FTE (full-time equivalent) nurses to staff the RAZ 24 hours per day.
“This is a good win which came about because the branch positioned themselves to be able to put an action in place if the LHD did not agree to approve the new positions,” said NSWNMA General Secretary Brett Holmes.
The RAZ was added two years ago but was staffed for only 12 hours per day.
Shoalhaven branch president Michael Clarke said the branch passed resolutions and lobbied management for 24-hour staffing.
The dispute went to the Industrial Relations Commission, which recom-mended talks at the hospital’s workloads committee.
“As a result, management agreed to staff the RAZ 24 hours per day. But staff would be drawn from the existing roster rather than new recruitment,” Michael said.
“That created gaps in the roster, which were filled by casual staff. Then, when people went on leave there were not enough casual staff available to backfill positions.
“After the branch discussed possible industrial action, NSWNMA head office wrote to management, who agreed to fund new positions.
“The branch believes all nursing positions should be promptly recruited to and funded accordingly.”
More members make a more effective branch
Shoalhaven is a level B2 hospital with 143 beds and, as of late last year, 594 staff including casuals.
Beginning in March 2019, NSWNMA organisers and Shoalhaven branch members planned a union membership drive and an education program for members wishing to get involved in union activity.
As a result, union membership increased to 100 per cent in some wards.
By January 2020, the branch had 24 executive members including 20 stewards – between one and two stewards from each ward or department.
Half the stewards have done NSWNMA training and the other half are booked in.
An average of 15–20 members attend regular branch meetings.
Branch officials have set up more effective communication with members through WhatsApp.
Hospital management now deal with the branch directly rather than trying to go through union head office.
Michael said greater member-ship involvement meant the branch was better able to represent nurses’ interests.
“We are recruiting more members, we’re more active on social media and nurses contact us more readily about problems we sometimes aren’t aware of. That helps us to get good outcomes for our members.”