Why some branches voted ‘No’
172 NSWNMA public health system branches voted ‘Yes’ to accept a 2.5 per cent pay increase in a new award. 19 branches voted not to accept the pay increase. The Lamp spoke to members from two of these branches.
In late June, an overwhelming majority of NSWNMA public health system branches voted to accept the state government’s offer of a 2.5 per cent pay increase in a new award.
These 172 branches also voted to continue to campaign for the union’s claim for better, more transparent staffing ratios, which the government rejected in negotiations for the new award.
However, 19 branches voted not to accept the pay increase and to fight on for a new award that also included staffing improvements.
Branches which voted against accepting the government’s offer included 62-bed South East Regional Hospital (Bega) on the state’s South Coast, and 796-bed John Hunter Hospital, the main tertiary referral hospital for Newcastle and northern NSW.
Bega branch secretary Amanda Gillies said the branch voted unanimously not to accept the pay rise without ratios.
“We wanted to keep the pressure on for mandated ratios across the state,” Amanda said.
“We needed to say to the government, we care about being able to provide safe care for patients and nurses more than a pay rise.
“We didn’t want ratios to be put on the back burner. We wanted to show the government how passionately we feel and that we are prepared to give up our pay rise for ratios.
“It would have sent a powerful message to the public and politicians: nurses would rather have safe patient care than a pay rise.
Strong feelings about ratios
Amanda said feeling about the need for ratios was “pretty strong” in regional areas and the bush.
“As a peer group C hospital, Bega is supposed to get five NHPPPD on its two general wards – basically a one to five ratio.
“But on morning and afternoon shifts, one of the nurses is called a resource nurse who basically runs the ward and doesn’t usually provide direct care.
“We often end up with a ratio of one to seven or one to eight which is pretty tough.
“Many people are doing double shifts, everyone is burnt out and fed up which is why they voted the way they did.”
Amanda said that even a one to five ratio is substandard compared to more generous ratios at big city hospitals.
“What’s the difference between a patient with say, pneumonia, in our hospital compared to the same patient in a big city hospital? Also, we don’t have the same access to casuals and agency nurses as the big hospitals do.
“We need to change the award so that the NHPPD staffing level is truly regarded as a minimum which can be increased according to acuity. It is supposed to work like that in theory but in practice it is near-impossible to go over the NHPPD.”
A vote to keep fighting
Leearna Bennett, an alternate delegate for John Hunter Hospital branch, said she voted with the majority of her branch against accepting the resolution.
“I felt it was more important to achieve a package of measures that included increased staff and additional educators,” she said.
“Our claim wasn’t only about a pay rise and pay wasn’t what most members were talking about.
“Some people agreed with the union’s view and voted to accept the 2.5 per cent offer while continuing to battle on for the other claims.
“Others said they wanted to keep fighting with the non-wage parts of claim as the main focus.
“We had a number of branch meetings where we discussed how nurses and patients would benefit from the claim. For example, it would change the staffing from NHPPD numbers, give us more staff in ED, maternity and paediatrics, guarantee ‘specials’ above numbers and make the in-charge nurse a supernumerary.
“We struggled through a tough winter last year with poor staffing and I think that still resonates with a lot of branch members.”
Leearna said John Hunter is a level 6 tertiary hospital yet has only one clinical nurse educator for ED and two for the surgical department.
“The union’s claim will provide each area with access to more educators and the opportunity for in-depth and specialised education, which we rarely get now,” she said.
“I would like to see the union continue to campaign for the entire claim especially ratios, educators and ‘specials’ out of numbers.”