Nurses continue fight for pay and conditions
By Bronwen Beechey
MELBOURNE— Victorian nurses voted on August 6 to close 20% of hospital beds as part of their long-running dispute with the state government over pay and staffing.
All public hospitals, with the exception of the Royal Children's and the Peter McCallum Cancer Institute, will be affected. Emergency admissions, emergency surgery and some specialist wards have been exempted from the bans.
More than 1500 nurses attended the Melbourne mass meeting, where the decision to reimpose the bans — which were lifted five weeks ago to allow negotiations with the Victorian government — was greeted with cheering.
They were told that the negotiations had made no gains for their 11-point claim. The government has offered a 6% pay rise over two years, which the nurses have rejected.
They have lodged a 15% ambit claim, as well as demanding better staff-patient ratios and the maintenance of existing terms and conditions.
The meeting voted to continue the bans until August 20, when another mass meeting is scheduled.
Belinda Morieson, Victorian secretary of the ANF, stated, "The bans will last as long as it takes to get the government to recognise that you can't take 3500 nursing positions out of the system and ask nurses to treat 190,000 more patients a year."
Health minister Rob Knowles suggested that hospitals should take the ANF to the Industrial Relations Commission for failing to give 72 hours' notice of the action.
Premier Jeff Kennett was more cautious, obviously aware of the strength of public support for nurses and anger at cuts to the health system. He acknowledged that nurses were providing a vital community service, but said that it was up to the hospital networks to negotiate with the nurses.
The hospital networks have already claimed that it would be "too costly" to agree to the nurses' claims.