Victorian nurses take campaign to the community

Victorian nurses have decided to take their claims directly to the community, after negotiations with the Baillieu Victorian government over their enterprise bargaining agreement broke down yet again.

Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) Victorian branch secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick told a mass meeting on December 2: “The government negotiators staged a ‘breakdown’ in negotiations last night to bait nurses and midwives into taking further industrial action that would pull the last forced arbitration trigger.

“Legally, an arbitrated determination can’t include ratios. Industrial action would also trigger Federal Court proceedings against nurses and midwives and the ANF.”

The 2500-strong meeting endorsed a two-week schedule of more than 30 community rallies outside public hospitals across Melbourne and Victoria. The first rally will be held outside the Royal Women's Hospital and Royal Melbourne Hospital on Sunday December 4. Nurses and midwives, along with their families, patients and supporters, will attend the rally.

Fitzpatrick said: “The community has a high stake in these negotiations and it’s time to have a public debate about mandated minimum nurse/midwife ratios and what happens to patient safety when you don’t have a guaranteed number of nurses or midwives looking after you and when hospital nursing budgets are eroded.”

She said the Victorian Hospitals Industrial Association (VHIA) and the government were following a strategy, outlined in a leaked cabinet document, to frustrate negotiations and force nurses to arbitration. The purpose is to secure $104 million in health cuts by undermining ratios and using assistant nurses with limited training.

Fitzpatrick also said she had sent Baillieu a letter outlining how frustrated nurses were by the lack of progress in more than 380 hours of negotiations, during which the VHIA had not made a single concession on any key points.

The ANF has applied to Fair Work Australia for orders stating the VHIA was not adhering to good faith bargaining.

Members of the Health Services Union (HSU) voted to accept the Baillieu government’s offer of a $35 a week or 2.5% (whichever is greater) wage rise.

The deal involves $15 million for a classifications review, a back pay lump sum, 10 fully funded clinical educators and raises several allowances. At least 40,000 health workers will benefit from the deal.

HSU president Kathy Jackson said if an agreement had not been reached the union would have advised members to strike. “This is not an ideal outcome but it’s an outcome that we can live with …We didn’t trade one condition for this offer and therefore we recommended it to our membership.”

Jackie Kriz, a Geelong-based nurse, told Green Left Weekly: “Who can blame the HSU for taking a small wage increase for no loss of conditions. It’s just a shame that the Baillieu government hasn’t seen fit to offer 60,000 ANF members a ‘no trade-offs deal’.”

“Clearly [premier Ted] Baillieu wants to divide and conquer. First the police [won a deal]. Now it’s health services. And he’ll just keep whittling away until only the strongest and bravest unions, like ourselves, are left and have to fight alone.

“We need a strong, all of public sector campaign to fight these shabby federal industrial laws. Otherwise we’ll be back here every three to four years trying to stop governments stripping away conditions and undermining public services.”