The Victorian Allied Health Professionals Association (VAHPA) has begun an industrial campaign with the current pay deal due to finish at the end of the year.
There are about 7500 VAHPA members in the public sector. Health professionals include physiotherapists, medical imaging technologists and social workers.
The union recently conducted a survey that found 49% of health professionals were considering leaving their current employer and almost 25% were actively seeking work outside the health sector.
The survey also found there was a crisis in staffing levels and workload. More than 85% of those surveyed reported that their workloads had continued to increase but staffing levels have stagnated. This has led to big increases in stress levels, sick leave, unpaid overtime and negative impacts on work/life balance.
The survey describes a system "close to collapse". In many departments, staff are already stretched to the limit with clinical and administrative workloads, combined with a consistent failure by management to engage replacement staff, even for planned periods of leave. Many staff said they are forced to work unpaid overtime.
Some staff reported feeling that they can only take short periods of leave as their workload will not be covered in their absence and they will return to a backlog of work.
Chronic increases in workload under the guise of “improved productivity” are seriously detrimental for the health of patients and staff. Cuts to public health funding have made the situation worse.
Bernarda Cavka, a physiotherapist at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, said low wages are an issue, but under-staffing is a bigger problem. "There are nowhere near enough bodies to do the work that needs to be done," she said. "We simply can't be expected to keep doing more with less."
Allied health professionals are now paid less than workers doing the same job in other states across Australia. Workers received pay rises of just 11.75% during the agreement while some entitlements were stripped away with no meaningful improvement in conditions.
Since the campaign began under new leadership in 2013, union membership has almost tripled. Health Services Union state secretary Craig McGregor said wages and conditions stagnated under the disgraced former leadership of the Health Services Union. "These failings — including poor governance and financial mismanagement — have received a great deal of media attention," McGregor said.
"What isn't so widely publicised are the poor industrial outcomes that occurred on [former HSU state secretary Kathy] Jackson's watch.
“Members could reasonably expect that a union would be able to negotiate good wages and conditions during favourable periods — when jobs are plentiful and workers in short supply. This opportunity was not seized.”
This petition is being sent round by the union.
[For campaign updates visit Victorian Allied Health Professionals Association on Facebook.]