McKesson Asia-Pacific, a subsidiary of US multinational medical services operator McKesson Corporation, landed a $176 million government contract to provide an all-hours national health telephone triage system called Healthdirect Australia. It began taking calls in New South Wales in August.
The firm is ignoring the results of a survey conducted by the Australian Nursing Federation (ANF), which show the majority of its 250 nurses employed want a union collective agreement.
According to the Australian Council of Trade Unions, McKesson Asia-Pacific is using aspects of the Work Choices legislation to exclude the ANF from any involvement while it develops a collective agreement directly with its employees.
The September 15 Sydney Morning Herald reported human resources director for McKesson Asia-Pacific, Denise Moore, said: "We employ a whole range of health professionals, social workers, doctors, psychologists, occupational therapists, not just nurses". This range of employees, Moore said, meant that, "We need an agreement that covers all those people, not just one subset or interest group", she said.
In a statement in July, 2007, then-health minister Tony Abbott announced that the service would allow "anyone anywhere in Australia to seek health advice from a registered nurse". While it has been agreed that all "phone-answerers" with the service must be registered nurses, their central role is being downplayed by denying them the union collective agreement they want.
According to the SMH article, Moore said, "We don't know exactly but anecdotally union membership is relatively low. So we have set up an agreement development team comprised of employees and some managers which will take input from all employees including union members." This statement attempts to detract from the fact disclosed by the survey: the majority of nurses want a union collective agreement.
The ANF has applied to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to force the company to negotiate with the union.