The Victorian Baillieu government is using Fair Work Australia to step up its attacks on two unions, the Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) and the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU).
By November 20, it had managed to get Fair Work Australia to order nurses to lift their work bans and reopen beds. It is also seeking an order to end the industrial campaign by the entire state public service, because of bans imposed by 1500 child protection workers.
Nurses, midwives and mental health nurses have sought a 3.5% yearly wage rise for four years, as well as superannuation and overtime improvements. Nurses also want to keep patient-to-nurse ratios as they are. By contrast, the Baillieu government would cut nurse-to-patient ratios and close 800 beds across the state.
ANF Victorian branch secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick said on November 17: “[Health] minister [David] Davis has shown he is doggedly sticking to his leaked strategy, that he signed in May, to abolish ratios and make $104 million in savings by cutting 1758 full-time nursing and midwifery positions.
“None of the action nurses and midwives took over the last four days compares with what the Victorian public health system will look like into the future if there were no nurse/midwife patient ratios.
“Nurses and midwives are incensed that minister Davis misled the public and blamed nurses for all emergency department delays, surgery cancellations and ambulances ramping as if these are new problems in the system because it suits his leaked strategy to abolish ratios.”
The ANF has filed an application with the Federal Court for a judicial review of Fair Work Australia's decision. The case will be heard in December. If the review is successful, the orders made by Fair Work Australia on November 16 and 18 would have no effect.
Fitzpatrick advised ANF members to attend the statewide members meeting on November 21 and to maintain safe night duty staffing levels.
ANF members had previously resolved at a November 11 mass meeting to take industrial action until a new agreement is reached.
The ANF has asked other unions to show support for its members as they arrive at the November 21 meeting. Victorian Trades Hall Council members expect there will be a large, enthusiastic crowd of well-wishers encouraging the nurses for their brave actions.
The Baillieu government has also dramatically escalated its pay dispute with the state's 36,000 public servants, moving to halt industrial action that it claims is putting vulnerable children at risk.
The CPSU, which wants a 6% yearly pay rise for public servants, a 35-hour basic working week and six weeks annual leave, has announced 63 work bans designed to frustrate the government's ability to function, including a refusal by child protection workers to accept caseloads of more than 12 children.
CPSU state secretary Karen Batt said “piling case after case” on exhausted child protection workers was unsafe. She denied the bans had endangered children, saying refusing extra case management meant “kids at risk are given priority as a result”.
The Baillieu government is offering a 2.5% a year pay rise to the whole public sector. However it has already granted the Police a 4% deal.
The CPSU has presented some interesting facts to their members that put the paltry 2.5% wage offers in a sobering light.
How does 2.5% stack up? Over the past three years:
• Rents have increased by 5.63% per year
• Housing costs (in general): 11.7% higher
• Electricity (Melbourne) costs by 14.9%
• Food (Melbourne): 2.7% per year
• Water & sewerage charges: 17.3%
• Alcohol has increased by 3.16% per annum
• Men’s underwear and socks have gone up by 1.13% per year, and
• Women’s by 3.8%
• Fresh meat: 4.2%
• Fruit: 10.5%
• Child Care: 13.2%
• Pharmaceuticals – 5.7%
• Hospital & Medical services: 18.6%
• Urban transport fares: 5.4%
• Books: 3.8%
Download a petition for a state-wide day of action in support of Victorian nurses, teachers and other public sector workers here.