Vic nurses dispute: breakthrough possible

Nurses in action in Ballarat. Photo: Ali Bakhtiavandi.

After eight months of campaigning by Victoria’s nurses to keep staff-to-patient ratios and win a wage rise there may be a breakthrough in the dispute.

On March 7, the Ted Baillieu Coalition state government finally offered to begin new negotiations with the Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) though a conciliation process overseen by Fair Work Australia.

The agreement to talk meant that all industrial action by the ANF ceased. The government and the Victorian Hospitals’ Industrial Association (VHIA) also agreed to end their legal action against nurses in the federal court. Both sides have committed to resolve all outstanding issues by March 16.

The March 8 Age reported that ANF Victorian Branch secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick said: “We don’t have an outcome yet, but I am very confident that the next time we meet … that we will come armed with an agreement that protects our patients, protects you and delivers good things for the nurses of Victoria.”

The breakthrough followed a highly publicised and extremely embarrassing incident for the Baillieu family. The premier's second cousin, Marshall, a former federal member of parliament, was caught on camera repeatedly making insulting finger gestures to protesting nurses.

Nurses in all public hospitals have walked out of work twice a day for the past two weeks. They have had the support of other unions and most of the Victorian public. Many observers feel that the more likely reason for the government’s sudden change of heart has been the impact of months of united, statewide political and industrial activity by nurses.

Ballarat nurses rally. Photos by Ali Bakhtiavandi


Comments

Nurses in ALL public hospitals have NOT walked out of work TWICE a day for the past TWO weeks. This is a misrepresentation of the facts. The relevance of a second cousin's "bird" in this standoff is simply media gotcha-hype. Unremarkably, there is no mention of the ANF resolutely defying the orders of the compliant umpire, Fair Work Australia. When they didn't get massive pay rises under the Bracks/ Brumby regimes, the ANF was conspicuously under the media radar. As for the final comment about the feelings of "many observers" – would that be those who read Green Left Weekly?

What point or points Anonymous is trying to make is unclear, besides pointing out that "Nurses in ALL public hospitals have NOT walked out of work TWICE a day for the past TWO weeks". Yes I know that is literally true. At my partner's workplace, Sunshine Hospital, nurses and midwives have walked out of work twice a day for the past two weeks - not all of them, enough each time to have a public presence, and there has been a scale down since the latest FWA threat about 10 days ago. But I've also had to go in this period to the Royal Children's twice, where they don't do stoppages for unsurprising reasons. I don't know the extent of actions generally. If Anonymous has better information or a point to make out of it she or he isn't very clear.

I've no idea what point Anonymous means by "Unremarkably, there is no mention of the ANF resolutely defying the orders of the compliant umpire, Fair Work Australia". That GLW should be highlighting the past defiance (as previous articles have)? That GLW should be denouncing the union from not continuing the defiance after only gaining a resumption of talks? Anonymous also seems to be claiming that the pro-Labor ANF was too timid under the previous government. I wouldn't be surprised: some more detail might others understand the dispute, although I don't know how much this should be hammered in the relatively short news items that the GL coverage has consisted of. Maybe GLW should provide space for a more critical "comment" article if Anonymous or anyone else has substantial things to say.

This is a very important dispute. The union has pushed the envelope to some extent although I'm sure there's grounds for criticism. Some informed comment, whether in articles or comments under them, would be better than vague and unclear apparent criticisms.

Nick Fredman.