BY JANE BECKMAN
NEWCASTLE — NSW Health and Research Employees Association (HREA) branches throughout the Hunter region have unanimously condemned the NSW Labor government's decision to privatise new facilities to be built at the Newcastle Mater Misericordia Hospital.
Four-hour strikes have taken place at the James Fletcher Hospital, the Mater hospital and the John Hunter Hospital. Meetings are taking place between the union and government and 24-hour rolling strikes, on an area-by-area basis, have been proposed by the union if the government's response is inadequate. On October 8, 40,000 hospital staff across NSW stopped work for four hours.
On August 29, the NSW health minister stated: "Under the public-private partnership approach we will be calling for expressions of interest for the private-sector construction, financing and operation of selected non-clinical services for the new facilities."
The HREA was informed of the plans only the day before the public announcement. HREA secretary Michael Williamson declared that "the manner and timing of this announcement has been absolutely atrocious... This is more than just a public-private financing initiative, it is a blatant attempt to privatise public sector jobs in the NSW health system and our members will not stand for it".
The HREA represents staff involved in maintenance, cleaning and domestic services, waste management and utility supply, secretarial staff and allied health staff, such as psychologists, occupational therapists and social workers.
The government is proposing that the private sector build and maintain new facilities on the Mater hospital site for the next 25 years. The government will pay the costs of the new facilities over those 25 years and provide a profit to the private consortium. The private company would employ the non-clinical hospital staff. Existing Mater staff have no way of knowing if they will be employed by the consortium or lose their jobs — or, if employed, whether they would lose their existing conditions. The HREA has information that security services will also be contracted out.
The HREA is also concerned about the implications of the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal's "Focusing on Patient Care" report, which was requested by the NSW health department. The report proposes that "a new body, the Health Shared Services Corporation, be established to ensure corporate and other services currently provided by the area health services and statutory corporations are managed in the most cost effective manner. The current restrictions limiting contracting out or market testing for clinical services should be removed". It calls for a task force to be established to determine how this is to be done. The HREA believes this is, in effect, a proposal to privatise ambulance services.
The NSW government has also entered into a similar private-public partnership for a correctional health facility at Little Bay in Sydney.
Instead of selling off public assets to private corporations, governments should be reviewing taxation and revenue raising in order to expand and improve public health, ensuring high standards and optimal working conditions.
From Green Left Weekly, October 22, 2003.
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