Health workers continue industrial action

Issue 

Health workers continue industrial action

By Seetal Dodd and Kim Linden

MELBOURNE — In response to a 14% pay claim by Victorian health workers, now in their second week of industrial action, the Kennett government has offered only a 5% pay increase, a figure which workers should already receive under a safety net agreement, plus 3% over two years.

Health workers are already struggling with increased workloads. This, and the cuts to jobs, have contributed to an increase in "productivity" in Victorian hospitals. These "efficiency improvements" have not been reflected in wage increases.

The government has petitioned the Industrial Relations Commission to terminate the current industrial action, so that it can initiate legal action against the health workers.

Health workers in hospitals across Victoria voted to refuse the government's 8% offer in early August and to continue industrial bans. Despite this, a packed August 4 meeting of Health Services Union of Australia (HSUA) shop stewards was informed by HSUA officials that the pay claim had been lowered to 12%.

Shop stewards were even more stunned when an HSUA official told them of a deal between the ACTU and the federal government for an 8% wage increase for public sector employees. This would make the arbitration commissioners even more inflexible on claims of more than 8%.

The stewards eventually voted to allow HSUA officials to negotiate for a 12% claim.

Radiographers have joined the dispute. Members of the Australian Health Professionals Association voted on August 3 to strike for 24 hours on August 18 and to return to work with some bans the following Monday. Nurses are also considering strike action for an 8% claim. Doctors recently obtained a 25% pay increase.