Defiant nurses ordered to lift bans

Photo: Sam Hollingway

In a week that saw a huge mass meeting and a rally of 12,000 people, Fair Work Australia (FWA) has ordered Victorian nurses— for the third time — by to lift their industrial action.

The Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) said on November 25 it would order its members to comply with the decision. The ANF hopes that its new offer of a compromise may pave the way to fruitful negotiations with the Coalition state government.

ANF Victorian branch secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick said on November 25: “Members will no doubt be aware that another full bench of Fair Work Australia late today issued new orders stopping our action. The effect of these orders is that any and all industrial action must stop ...

“I am acutely aware and mindful of the resolution of members that industrial action only cease once an agreement is reached that is acceptable to members at a statewide meeting of members.”

Fitzpatrick said that she had “agonised” over the decision and that many members may be, “confused, upset and disappointed”. However, she said: “I strongly believe it is in the best interests of our campaign to maintain, extend and improve nurse to patient ratios.

“We will have the opportunity at Wednesday’s meeting to discuss my decision and to consider any response from the Baillieu government.”

The ANF has called its members to a fifth mass meeting on Wednesday, November 30.

Each of the ANF mass meetings have been attended by thousands of members enthusiastically waving banners and wearing their distinctive red campaign T-shirts

A welcoming crowd of 100 from other unions and Trades Halls greeted the fourth meeting, which was held at Festival Hall on November 21.

Nurses danced to Aretha Franklin’s song “Respect”, which has been the theme of their campaign as they’ve called on the Baillieu government to respect their work. They cheered as Fitzpatrick congratulated them on their campaign and jeered at the government’s characterisation of them as “renegades”.

Fitzpatrick said some false information had been presented to FWA to prove that the bans put patient’s health in danger. One widely reported case was of a stroke victim supposedly made to wait for 50 hours in Emergency. In reality, the wait was 28 minutes.

ANF members voted unanimously to continue their unprotected industrial action and to march on Parliament House on November 24.

Ten thousand nurses and 2,000 public sector workers, some of whom are also in industrial disputes, joined supporters for the rally and jammed the front of Parliament House.

Despite the twists and turns of the campaign so far, most nurses’ spirits are still high.

Amanda Best, a nurse at Geelong Hospital,told Green Left Weekly: “The ANF has been amazing in its ability to respond so quickly and effectively to all the legal tricks pulled by this lousy government.

“It’s so clear that the government is persecuting us — they want to cut costs by undermining our service. The union is playing it smart but if we don’t get what we want through negotiation, who knows what the members will do. They’re angry.”

Nurses say they will continue to wear their red T-shirts at work to remind the government and community of the campaign. They are also collecting signatures of support outside the government’s marginal seat electorates. Public support has been overwhelming. In Geelong, nurses collected 760 signatures in one four hour stint.

Meanwhile, the Fair Work ombudsman, appointed by the Gillard government, has begun a formal investigation into whether the ANF has breached the Fair Work Act by failing to abide by FWA orders to stop industrial action. This investigation could take months and may lead to significant fines for the union.

If you like our work, become a supporter

Green Left is a vital social-change project and aims to make all content available online, without paywalls. With no corporate sponsors or advertising, we rely on support and donations from readers like you.

For just $5 per month get the Green Left digital edition in your inbox each week. For $10 per month get the above and the print edition delivered to your door. You can also add a donation to your support by choosing the solidarity option of $20 per month.

Freecall now on 1800 634 206 or follow the support link below to make a secure supporter payment or donation online.