NSW nurses and midwives vote for pay rise, fair staff to patient ratios

Nurses and midwives from Sutherland Hospital outside Sydney Town Hall on June 28. Photo: Isaac Nellist

New South Wales Nurses and Midwives Association (NSWNMA) held a special general meeting at Sydney Town Hall on June 28 to discuss the NSW Health Award Claim 2022. Members also attended online from remote locations.

We were informed that the NSW budget had calculated that only 10,148 full-time staff would to be employed over four years. This does not address the existing chronic shortage of Registered Nurses (RNs).

We were told that out of these 10,148, only 2756 were going to be RNs with a further 165 positions to be filled by midwives. This number included 966 nursing positions promised in last year’s budget.

To provide context, members from Campbelltown Hospital said there were 48 full-time vacancies in the Midwifery Services Department now, which cannot be filled.

To make matters worse, babies are not counted as requiring care by midwives, despite the number of essential health checks that must be completed.

The question surely must be that if the Local Health Areas can not fill existing vacancies, how will they raise the number of nurses?

NSW Health has consistently refused to implement ratios to ensure safe patient care, despite knowing that more RNs on wards does reduce death rates.

Safe ratios has been a cornerstone of NSWNMA’s industrial action for years. If we had such ratios, nurses would be able to provide safe care and this would reduce burnout, retain nurses and potentially encourage many more to return to the profession.

NSW Health is pushing for a revised award and a below inflation pay rise of 3%, inclusive of employer superannuation contributions, through the Industrial Relations Commission (IRC), for 2 years.

The union leadership recommended we accept this offer with one amendment — to lock in this agreement for 1 year. It believes the government will force this agreement though the IRC.

Brett Homes, NSWNMA General Secretary, said: “We want to make up for what was lost by the wage freeze in 2020 and to cover inflationary increases but the government continues to dictate whatever it wants.”

NSWNMA had applied for a below-inflation rise of 4.75%, which was rejected. The December quarter inflation rate is projected to be 5.1%.

After discussion, members rejected the leadership’s recommendation to accept the 3% offer. To achieve wage parity between men and women, which is 21%, NSWNMA must demand a 7% wage rise, each year, over 3 years. This would be above inflation and would move wage parity in the right direction. Members voted this, 522 to 513.

Members discussed that fact that the government has no concrete plan to employ an additional 2756 RNs and 165 midwives, noting that NSW Health had not been able to employ 966 nurses from last year’s budget.

Without guaranteed ratios, it will not be resolved and nurses and midwives will continue to feel unsafe at work, knowing they cannot provide safe care. 

NSWNMA acting assistant general secretary Michael Whaites said the staffing crisis and workloads had to be addressed. “Shift by shift ratios are the solution. Until our members experience improvements to their workloads or witness meaningful changes to address workload fatigue, sadly, we’ll continue to see nurses and midwives leaving NSW, or the profession all together. They are done.”

Nurses are leaving the profession in droves and many have delayed retirement due to savings lost as a result of the global financial crisis in 2008. The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed us to breaking point.

Members voted to authorise the NSWNMA Council to organise more industrial action as part of pursuing their claims.

[Abigail Humphreys has been a NSWNMA member for 37 years.]