The State Government’s plan for a comprehensive attack on the working conditions of nurses is becoming clearer.
Last Year the O’Farrell Government passed laws that capped the wage increases of public health nurses at 2.5% and rendered the NSW Industrial Relations Commission powerless as an in-dependent umpire in wage negotiations.
Now the government has introduced more new laws that are a clear attack on the right of nurses and other public sector workers to take legitimate industrial action or be represented by a trade union. It has also laid the groundwork for an attack against award conditions covering staffing, including nurse-to-patient ratios.
‘I’m really angry’
Pam Barrett, a NUM in Acute Medical and Coronary Care at Tweed Hospital, says nurse-to-patient ratios are already making a difference in her hospital and it is infuriating to think the government would take them away.
“Ratios are in the process of being rolled out now. When we won them people felt satisfied that something positive may happen – that you wouldn’t walk off the shift frustrated anymore.” Pam says the prospect that the government would remove them from the award has provoked a strong reaction.
“People are stunned. I have eight first year grads on my ward. One said to me ‘I had my first vote and I voted for Barry O’Farrell and now I am totally disillusioned. This government is taking away what I moved into nursing for’.”
‘Wow, this is what work should be like’
Clare Bolton, an RN in the ICU at John Hunter Hospital, says nurses in the Hunter Valley love ratios.
“Some wards like the general surgical and the neuro ward are renowned for their high acuity and for being heavy and busy. Nurses didn’t have meal breaks and had to stay behind after shifts to hand over notes.
“Now they’ve got ratios they are saying ‘Wow, this is what work should be like.’ NUMs and staff are saying it is a different world.”
Clare is flummoxed that the O’Farrell Government would think about a reversal.
“Why, when you’ve got something that is working well, when the research says it is better for staff, patients and visitors, why would you take them away?”
Health Minister Jillian Skinner has written to the NSWNA confirming that the interim Schott Report is the Coalition’s “roadmap” for public sector reform. Premier Barry O’Farrell endorsed the report, which his government commissioned.
“Until such time as the final report has been released and the government has fully considered its recommendations it would be premature to be definitive in regard to the adoption or otherwise of (its) recommendations,” Jillian Skinner wrote.
NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes says this “non-answer” should set off alarm bells among NSW nurses.
“A key element of the campaign for nurse-to-patient ratios was that ratios were mandated and embedded in the award. This was to protect them from political interference and managerial whim. With the proposed changes it will be a manager’s call how a ward will be staffed. There will be no compulsion to make safe patient care the priority when allocating resources,” he said.
“If this is implemented it could be the end of ratios forever. This is a critical point and there is a small window of opportunity to stop it.”
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Image credit: NSWNA