Jenny Forward & Susan Austin, Hobart
The unions involved in Tasmania's Allied Health Professionals Campaign — the Community and Public Sector Union-State Public Service Federation and the Health and Community Services Union — are celebrating the state government's return to the negotiating table.
The campaign addresses the increasing workload and poor working conditions faced by many allied health professionals, including child protection workers, social workers in the education department, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and mental health professionals.
The unions are demanding numerous improvements, including the matching of Tasmanian allied health professionals' wage increases to the average increases paid to equivalent workers in all other states and territories. The disparity between the wages and conditions in Tasmania and other states is so great that many Tasmanian government departments have difficulty recruiting and retaining allied health professionals; about 17% of these positions are currently vacant.
The unions lodged a claim with the state Labour government in July 2004. They were ignored until they took determined industrial action, which brought the government to the negotiating table.
A statewide stop-work on May 19 involved 500 members, approximately 250 of whom rallied in front of parliament house as the state budget was delivered. The industrial campaign was strengthened on July 11 with the imposition of further work bans in some disciplines (including not accepting new referrals, and refusing to work overtime or collect revenue). Other disciplines had planned to commence further bans later that week, but all bans were suspended on July 12 following a government announcement that it would fund a pay rise to achieve pay parity with other states.
Angered by the government's initial lack of response, many allied health professionals were drawn into the unions, and into collective action to achieve their demands. Industrial action has been complemented by other actions, such as the fax campaign responding to health minister and deputy premier David Llewellyn's comment that allied health professionals (other than radiation therapists) did not face "life and death" issues. Hundreds of faxes highlighted the life and death situations allied health workers encounter daily, including dealing with extremely long waiting lists for child protection services.
Negotiations between the unions and government are continuing, with the unions seeking to ensure that all their claims are addressed. These include a more flexible career structure, recognition of qualifications, professional development, and staffing and workload improvements.
From Green Left Weekly, September 7, 2005.
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