Victorian nurses reject gov’t enterprise offer

March 25, 2024
Nurses in Naarm/Melbourne vote to reject the poor enterprise agreement offer. Photo: Christopher Hopkins/ANMF (Vic branch)/Facebook

A state-wide members meeting of the Victorian branch of the Australian Nurses and Midwives Federation (ANMF) on March 21 unanimously rejected Labor’s enterprise offer and decided to apply to the Fair Work Commission for a protected action ballot.

The union heard progress on negotiations for the Nurses and Midwives (Victorian Public Sector) (Single Interest Employers) Enterprise Agreement 2024–2028. The current enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) expires on April 30.

Nurses from Naarm/Melbourne joined up with colleagues from regional locations including Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, Warrnambool, Shepperton, Mildura and Tarragon. Each could join the discussion and ask questions.

The ANMF provided their employers, Public Sector Hospitals and Community Services and the Victorian Hospitals’ Industrial Association (VHIA), which represents them, with a log of claims last October, developed from delegates’ conference resolutions, member concerns and strategies developed by ANMF.

ANMF met with the VHIA at least two days a week to draft clauses to ensure the claimed entitlements would work in the new EBA.

As of March 18, there had been 23 all-day bargaining meetings, and work between those on refining the draft clauses.

The ANMF on March 1 requested a response to its claims before the meeting, which was sent on March 19, along with an offer from the VHIA.

To understand the offer, it is important to understand of the government’s wages policy. While the union’s public sector members are not directly employed by the government, it runs and funds all public health services.

Any change deemed a “cost” by Treasury must be paid for by identified and agreed cost offsets in bargaining. If not, it leads to a smaller wage rise in the enterprise agreement.

Hence, the government offer is split between “cost items” and “non-cost items”.

None of the union’s claims that Treasury considers a cost have been agreed, especially a wages and allowance rise above the government’s current wages policy.

Instead, the union was offered a 3% a year wage and an allowance rise of about $1500 per year for a full-time employee, which will be taxed.

Thirty-two “non-cost items” were agreed in all or in part.

Five were not agreed, including working on improving the definition of classifications and qualifications for highly experienced and qualified nurse practitioners, recognition and qualification allowances for post-graduate qualifications.

Union members from across the state spoke about their anger and disappointment at the EBA offer.

They said they had worked hard and sacrificed a lot during the COVID-19 pandemic and continue to do so, despite the everyday challenges. They said they feel “used” and “undervalued”.

Many nurses and midwives have left the profession or reduced their work hours, which has led to increases in casual and agency staff or increased double shifts to fill roster gaps and sick leave.

The ANMF has been promoting “recruitment” and “retention” by improving wages and entitlements/allowances, and conditions for permanent, full or part-time workers, making it less attractive to move to casual or agency work.

Improving weekend, night shift and public holiday shift allowances, particularly extending weekend entitlements to include Friday night and Sunday into Monday night, is just one of several claims the union is pushing.

ANMF members made it clear they are not happy about the number of claims rejected or not addressed by the government, and they unanimously rejected the offer.

The union will now organise more negotiations on the claim, with a particular emphasis on wages and allowances.

It will apply to the Fair Work Commission for a protected industrial action ballot order and hold another state-wide meeting as soon as practicable after the likely protected industrial action ballot in late April or early May.

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