WA nurses fight for a real wage rise

WA nurses are fed up with the government and the union leadership arguing for a pay cut. Photo: Chris Jenkins/WA Nurses & Midwives Advocacy

Members of the Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) Western Australia will start day-long work stoppages on November 17 as part of its enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) negotiations with the WA Labor government. 

Mark McGowan’s government has flatly refused to raise its wage offer above 3% and took the ANF to the Industrial Relations Commission on November 4 to try to end the union’s rolling actions.

These started with a ban on working overtime and double shifts, to a ban on admitting emergency department patients to wards (over-census bed admissions) to the current stoppages that affect all non-critical areas from 7am until 9pm. 

Perth’s flagship hospital Fiona Stanley is the first to undertake a day-long stoppage. This will be followed by another metro hospital each day until 12 hospitals have taken part.

The ANF membership voted at a mass stop-work meeting on October 12 for a 10% annual salary increase, a $4500 immediate cost-of-living payment and safe nurse/midwife-patient ratios.

Even before the meeting had ended, the ANF WA executive were already telling the media that the 10% demand is unrealistic.

The union executive now claims an online survey of members authorises it to lower the wages demand to 5%, plus a top-up for inflation, along with ratios and free hospital parking for nurses and midwives.

The ANF has advertised an annual general meeting for November 16, knowing that the quorum for such a meeting requires an attendance of 1800 members and the chosen venue, the ANF office in Perth City, is capable of hosting a fraction of that number.

The ANF executive is going through the motions, with an important decision-making meeting being converted into a question-and-answer session with executive members. 

It is a matter of waiting to see how members respond to the call to strike.

The ANF executive said it is not preparing any rallies or pickets to coincide with the stoppages, leaving members with no way to support the actions.

Staff at the King Edward Memorial Women’s Health Hospital are organising a snap action to raise awareness about the fact that newborns are not listed as patients in budgeting and staffing allocation. This means the number of people receiving care is significantly higher than the official figures suggest. 

The broader conditions for a serious wage rise for nurses and midwives are very favourable. Nurses’ wages have been flat-lining for more than a decade. WA has a $6 billion budget surplus. The cost of living crisis is impacting more people, just as a new wave of COVID-19 is expected to hit WA.

Polls show there is wide public support for a better deal for nurses.

Rather than ask whether a 10% wage rise is achievable, we should challenge Labor to justify why nurses and midwives should accept a pay cut.

Even the demand for a 5% wage rise, which has been popular across the WA union movement, is a pay cut in real terms. It is a sad state of affairs when the ANF executive dresses this up as a win for workers. We deserve so much more than the union officialdom fighting to keep our wages stagnant.

[Chris Jenkins is a member of the ANF WA and the Socialist Alliance.]