Tasmanian nurses step up industrial action

Issue 

The Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) has conducted mass meetings around Tasmania to vote on whether to accept the state Labor government's offer of a 3.5% annual pay rise over the next three years or step-up industrial action.

The mass meeting in Hobart on October 31 was attended by around 500 nurses. The vote to reject the government's pay offer and increase industrial action was unanimous. The nurses marched to state parliament to press their demands.

Tasmanian nurses want a 6.7% pay rise to bring them in line with the pay rates of nurses on the mainland, plus retention of staffing levels and the exclusion of non-nursing staff from nursing roles.

A mass meeting in Burnie on November 1 also rejected the government's offer and voted to strengthen industrial action.

Premier Paul Lennon's Labor government is also seeking to undermine the safe staffing model in the nurses' current enterprise bargaining agreement by claiming that it needs the "flexibility" to staff below the nurse/patient ratio when required.

The government is also trying to undermine nurses' conditions by seeking agreement to introduce unqualified staff to carry out basic patient care in the wards.

Already, the nurses have been involved in industrial action for two weeks. The week of stop-work meetings voted to close one in five of the state's public hospital beds from November 5; postpone all elective surgery except category one, cardiac, cancer and caesarean births from November 5; impose a 48-hour ban from November 6 on overtime and double shifts in all wards including intensive care and neonatal intensive care; and, maintain current bans on all non-nursing work but ensure all emergency cases are given priority treatment.

According to an October 29 ANF press release, the closure of one in five hospital beds simply matches the number of open hospital beds to the safe staffing level to avoid nurses working double shifts.

ANF state secretary Neroli Ellis stated that "nurses working in the emergency services have continued to be pressured to work double shifts of 17 hours straight due to the government's refusal to fund the additional positions. This is false economy paying overtime and burning nurses out…

"Over 160 double shifts were worked in the Royal Intensive Care Unit in one month recently due to the lack of funded positions and if the government funded the identified 24 positions required at the Royal Hobart Hospital Intensive Care Unit, this crisis would not have developed.

"Nurses will continue to campaign for safe staffing and the staffing model has identified around 120 additional nursing positions in total which the government has refused to fund. This is the reason that there are unacceptable elective surgery waiting times, access through emergency departments is delayed and nurses continue to work unsustainable shifts of 17 hours duration.

"Closing beds to match staffing is highlighting the goodwill normally taken for granted by this government and reduced the numbers of double shifts on the general areas but not in intensive care units."

It appears that state Labor governments have been colluding over what they are prepared to offer in pay negotiations with state public sector workers. The Victorian government is only offering state public sector workers a 3.5% pay rise.

Victoria's nurses recently settled for pay increases ranging between 3.6% and 6% depending on nurses' classifications after a very hard-fought industrial battle.

The Victorian government also tried to push nurses to accept hospital administrations' right to use "flexibility" to staff below the 1:4 nurse/patient ratio and to allow unqualified workers to carry out basic patient care.