Walkout sends a strong message
Blacktown Hospital midwives take strong action to protect the health and safety of mothers and babies in their care.
NSWNMA branch steward Rachel O’Donnell said members discussed the pros and cons of action before the NSWNMA branch meeting vote.
“How would we go about it? And how would it benefit us?
“Once we understood how it would work, and how we could ensure it would not leave the wards without any staff, people were worked up enough to support it,” Rachel said.
“There wasn’t a lot of trust in management because we had been trying to work with them to solve staffing issues for at least 18 months. They had made a lot of empty promises and none of us wanted it to drag on any longer.”
Representatives of midwives and the branch met with Western Sydney Local Health District management on the morning of the action.
Management offered to employ another 15 midwives but would not commit to a time frame. The LHD also wanted to send all other issues off to a committee of managers and midwives for more discussion.
The branch called a meeting where “the feeling was that we had to send a clear message that we were ready to stand together to fight for what was right for patients and staff.”
“We wanted to keep the issue in the spotlight so management couldn’t keep delaying things.”
The walkout covered the birthing unit and maternity ward along with members from outside the maternity service such as theatres and general medical wards.
“We did a lot of work to spread the word and gain support throughout the hospital,” Rachel said.
“We already had a lot of support from theatres because we work closely with them. Our branch officials were always really supportive; they sent messages to other wards and got positive feedback from them.
Union reps on the wards looked at the day sheets and worked out the numbers who needed to stay behind during the action.
An overwhelming vote in favour of action
The vote took place at the end of morning shift and was overwhelmingly in favour. The afternoon staff walked out as a group and gathered outside the hospital for a short, lively meeting. “It was a very positive atmosphere,” Rachel said.
She and others expected to be ordered back to work by the Industrial Relations Commission.
“But when the order finally came, it was a blow to some of the midwives and created some uncertainty. Some of them were asking, does this mean we’ve lost?
“However, most knew they had sent a strong and unified message to management. I think it was cathartic for the midwives to stand up and tell management they had had enough.”
Rachel says the dispute has strengthened ties between midwives and their union, the NSWNMA.
“Before this dispute we knew the union was there but didn’t really know how we could engage with them or how exactly they could help us,” she said.
“Now there is a more positive feeling that the union can help us when we’re really stuck.
“A lot of the staff see the union as more accessible and realise together we are the union.
“The people from the union office were great. They were there for us when we needed them and they let us make our own decisions.
“They helped us advocate for the staffing levels we know mums and babies need. Without their guidance and support we definitely wouldn’t have got anything like we did.
“There’s still a lot of work to do but this whole process will help to improve the care we can provide to mothers and babies and that was always our goal.
Rachel said the new, modern maternity wing was welcomed by all and it was a relief to now see new positions finally being advertised that were needed to staff it properly.
“The birthing unit is quite excited about the prospect of getting an after-hours clinical midwifery educator. It will help relieve the pressure on midwives in terms of educating students and provide better support for students.
“It is also important to have achieved an agreement that the Midwifery Unit Manager 1 will not be expected to perform MUM 3 duties while she is on leave because we can now have the NUM 1 working effectively.”
Staffing lags behind births
Since 2015, births at Blacktown Hospital have increased 52 per cent, while staffing has only risen 11 per cent.
Blacktown was averaging11.5 births every 24 hours last November, with often only seven midwives rostered per shift. Meanwhile, at Westmead Hospital, midwives were assisting with an average 13.7 births in 24 hours, with 10 midwives rostered per shift. Blacktown midwives were being rostered for multiple day and night shifts of up to 64 hours over seven days despite 56 hours being the maximum allowed.