The Health and Community Services Union (HACSU) has begun a series of rolling stoppages for better wages and conditions at mental health services across Victoria. HACSU covers mental health and allied health workers.
Stoppages and rallies have been held in Bendigo and Shepparton, and at Eastern Mental Health, St Vincents and Melbourne Health. A two-hour stopwork rally will be held at Latrobe Valley Mental Health on November 29, from noon at the Latrobe Valley Hospital in Traralgon.
HACSU members at Melbourne Health shifted a planned rally on November 23 to the city to support the Australian Nursing Federation’s (ANF) community rally for the nurses’ enterprise bargaining campaign. The ANF and HACSU both face a state government determined to slash wages and conditions.
The Victorian government has offered public sector workers only a 2.5% pay rise, which will not meet the cost of living.
The government has also threatened the rights of mental health workers. It wants to cut the amount of qualified staff in mental health wards and replace them with less qualified assistants, introduce short shifts to remove the minimum eight-hour requirement, and remove set shift locations, which means staff could be forced to move between hospitals or institutions during an eight-hour shift.
HACSU is campaigning for more staff, higher funding and improved wages and conditions.
At a November 22 rally at St Vincent's Hospital HACSU state secretary Lloyd Williams said: “We all know that one in five people will experience mental health issues in their lifetime. When this occurs, you or your loved one will need quality treatment services you can access, no matter where you live.
“This standard of care is becoming harder and harder to provide. The demand for services is rising at more than double the pace of funding. Staff are dedicated and work hard but we don’t have the resources to cope with demand.
“Unfortunately, negotiations indicate the government and providers are not interested in the long-term quality of our mental health system.
“We are not going to accept 2.5%; this is below the cost of living. There are acute staff shortages in this sector. We can’t keep our mental health services if there is no investment in it.”
The rally at Shepparton Hospital highlighted the existing staff shortages in the Goulburn Valley’s mental health system.
Williams said on November 15: “Mental health services in the Goulburn Valley were understaffed and struggling to cope with increasing demand.
“Workers in the mental health system are struggling to manage the caseloads they are given. This means that vulnerable patients are not getting the support they need. Patients are being medicated rather than given one-on-one time with trained staff.”
HACSU said the Goulburn Valley region already faces staff shortages and long waiting lists.
“Our members in the Goulburn Valley are struggling with staff cuts and increased demand to provide quality time with patients to ensure their treatment, recovery support and safety is provided,” Williams said.