Victorian nurses and midwives reject latest gov’t pay offer

June 13, 2024
Victorian nurses at Sunshine Hospital on June 12 informing the public about their enterprise claim. Photo: ANMF Vic Branch/Facebook

Members of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) (Vic Branch) voted on May 20 to reject Victorian Labor’s latest enterprise bargaining offer, despite the union and government having reached an in-principal deal.

Following an initial offer which was rejected in April, ANMF members held an action ballot on April 29 in which 96% voted to support action from May 7.

The decision to reject the second offer was the latest action by ANMF members.

Stage 1 of the protected industrial action began on May 7. It included wearing red campaign T-shirts, refusing to work overtime, talking to patients about the campaign, stopping work to post campaign messages on social media and implementing administrative paperwork bans.

Hospital-in-the-home and community nurses also wrote messages on work car windows.

With no response from Jacinta Allan’s government, Stage 2 actions included closing one in four beds, cancelling one in four elective surgeries and stopping work meetings, which began on May 17.

When the ANMF received a new offer from the government, the Stage 2 industrial action was suspended.

The union called a state-wide members meeting at Festival Hall on May 20 to discuss the 2024-2028 enterprise agreement offer. Members from all across Victoria bussed in to discuss and vote on it.

The offer included most of the ANMF’s log of claims, improving allowances and entitlements.

ANMF Secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick and Assistant Secretary Paul Gilbert explained these additions to more than 4000 members. There was a great deal of support.

However, when the news that the base rate wage rise by 3% a year until 2028 had not changed, members’ mood changed to anger and dismay. Members felt betrayed and insulted.

Gilbert said the base rate could rise substantially if the Fair Work Commission (FWC) invested in greater pay levels for aged care workers and he said that there was a potential to extend these to all nurses and midwives.

Members lost interest and could not understand how this “maybe” could help them now.

They rejected the EBA offer, despite the government almost entirely accepting the union’s log of claims. The offer was not equitable: many nurses and midwives would not receive many of those new allowances/entitlements and the 3% base rate rise for all was not enough to cover the cost-of-living rises and inflation. It amounted to a pay cut over the life of the agreement.

Members felt they had given their all throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and its ongoing impact on the health system and its most significant workforce — nurses and midwives.

The ANMF is now back negotiating with the government and Stage 1 industrial action continues.

The Victorian Police enterprise agreement settlement of 4% a year has raised the ANMF’s expectations and there is a commitment to not settle for anything less.

Meanwhile, NSW Nurses and Midwives Association is pushing for a 15% pay rise, from July 1, and more funding for nurse-to-patient ratios. The enterprise agreement expires on June 30.

Months of consultation produced a 2024 log of claims, that went to branches to discuss and vote on.

Nurses and most public sector workers received a one–year 4% pay rise last year, after NSW Labor lifted the Coalition’s 2.5% annual wage cap, introduced in 2011.

But a new report on the profession’s pay from 1999-2024 by Professor John Buchanan, Dr Troy Henderson and Associate Professor Jo-An Occhipinti found that the NSW wage cap for more than a decade had a compound impact on the pay of nurses and midwives.

In real terms it found their wages had fallen by more than 10% since 2020 and, in 2024, are at the same level of when the wage cap was imposed in 2011.

The authors of Escaping NSW Treasury’s Curse said that over 25 years, “NSW nurses and midwives have only partly shared in the significant productivity growth Australian workers have helped generate … Collectively this has meant employees’ share of GDP is at record lows.”

They said that over 40 years “corporate profits as a share of national income has increased from 20% to 30%” and recommended “remedying this imbalance”.

It said a pay rise of 15% is justified as 4.2% takes into account anticipated inflation and increased productivity. “The remaining 11% would restore real purchasing power and ensure NSW nurses and midwives begin to share more fairly in the cumulative national productivity improvements of recent decades,” the report said.

It said a catch-up pay rise would offset the dysfunction in the health system which is “marred by high turnover, chronic excess demand and many registered nurses and midwives not practicing in the profession”.

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