The New South Wales Nurses and Midwives Association (NSWNMA) took strike action on February 15, defying the Industrial Relations Commission’s order to cancel.
More than 5000 nurses and midwives from across the Sydney basin marched to NSW Parliament to hear speakers recount their stressful work days and the unsustainability of the public system even before the pandemic hit and made things worse. Rallies were organised in many regional centres across NSW.
Nurses told the rally about the “crisis meeting” they had with NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard the day before. He didn’t seem to understand, they said, showing how out of touch he was. “He’s only listening to the bureaucrats,” another said, adding, “I will not be lectured on safe staffing levels by a bureaucrat”.
“Hazzard and [NSW Premier Dominic] Perrotett’s ‘let it rip’ strategy — putting the economy ‘first’ is wrong,” another said. “Too many people have died needlessly as a result.”
Others recounted a “normal day” in which they have to leave dying patients on their own; and emergency procedures are put on hold because there were no intensive care unit beds left.
The NSWNMA is demanding safe nurse-to-patient ratios. Not enough staff are being rostered on to each shift, leading to workplace fatigue and dangerous work conditions. International studies show a direct correlation between nurse staffing levels and improved patient outcomes. Victoria and Queensland have made nurse-to-patient ratios law.
The union is demanding the government immediately commit to a fair pay rise, above 2.5%, and introduce a COVID-19 allowance. It also wants the government to withdraw an amendment added to the Workers’ Compensation Act in May 2020 that makes it easier for bosses not to pay compensation, forcing workers to prove they contracted COVID-19 at work.