Mental health workers voted to escalate industrial action in two weeks unless Ted Baillieu's Coalition government begins to seriously negotiate with their union.
The Health and Community Services Union (HACSU) covers psychiatric nurses, social workers, occupational therapists, psychologists and support staff. The Australian Nursing Federation covers some mental health nurses as well.
About 350 mental health workers attended a stopwork meeting on March 20. They voted to begin four-hour rolling stoppages after the two week deadline if the Baillieu government did not begin serious negotiations.
Mental health workers face the same real wage cuts the state government has placed on all state public sector workers — a maximum 2.5% yearly pay rise. Anything higher depends on productivity savings and cutbacks.
HACSU state secretary Lloyd Williams said: “Our members don’t take industrial action lightly. For months we have kept non-clinical, administrative bans which have not impacted on clients’ welfare.
“However, we have been forced into this position by the Baillieu government’s refusal to negotiate and recognise the need for more staff in our system. If we want a decent mental health system for the future, we need more staff paid commensurate wages, not less.”
The meeting applauded one member when he called on HACSU leaders to work with other unions to take part in a united public sector union campaign. The nurses and Health Services Union-East (HSU-East) have recently concluded agreements, but the teachers and state public sector workers are still in dispute.
The Victorian Community and Public Sector Union was recently forced into compulsory arbitration and banned from taking industrial action after child protection workers restricted their caseloads to a manageable number.
The meeting also voted that psychologists, allied health, administrative and non-direct care workers in the mental health sector would not accept the 2.5% deal accepted by HSU-East on behalf of health workers.
This was a response to attempts by health employers to split the mental health workforce and push some workers onto the HSU-East agreement. Late last year, HSU-East accepted a 2.5% a year, $25 a week pay rise.