Nurses campaign for wage justice

June 15, 2008

Between June 10-13, NSW Nurses Association (NSWNA) branches met to consider the state government's paltry offer of a 3.9% wage rise over one year, with strings attached.

By June 13 most branches had rejected it. Many nurses were scornful of the "pissy" conditions that accompanied the government offer, and were insisting on the increase in night-duty rates.

The government wants to save by: reducing from seven to three the maximum number of additional days off that can be accumulated; reducing to five, from the current eight, unsupported separate sick leave absences in a single year that will trigger management action; allowing the employer to recover a single overpayment of salary in the next pay; only paying higher grade duties after five days of acting in the position; and by reviewing the nurse manager award classifications. There are other strings attached to the offer.

As well as refusing the core NSWNA claim — a rise of 5% over three years, roughly in line with inflation — the Iemma government declined to increase the penalties for night shift to 25%, reward experienced registered nurses and enrolled nurses with an extra 3.8%, and allow ENs graduating as RNs to start on RN year 2 rates.

The NSW Health Department has until June 16 to make a satisfactory offer.

During the election the ALP talked up the need to recruit extra nurses. But the attempt to filch conditions and deny them a modest wage claim will do the opposite. As the nurses' campaign puts it: "Fair conditions — fair pay, nurses stay. Its that simple".

Meanwhile, nurses in the Hunter New England Area Health Service (HNEAHS) are angry about the introduction of the misnamed "responsive roster" whereby all nurses are rotated through a fixed set of patterns whether it suits them or not. It will mean that nurses will forced to work days, afternoons and weekends.

At a NSWNA forum on May 22, more than 300 nurses responded with derision to the report that HNEAHS director Tracey McCosker had claimed pattern rosters would create a "level playing field".

"How can you possibly compare the needs of, say, a newly graduated nurse who is paying off their degree with a nurse who might have unpredictable and multiple family care responsibilities?", asked one nurse. The pattern roster would preclude any requests being made before the roster was published. Nurses would be forced to arrange swaps afterwards.

It is an impractical suggestion that ignores experience from around the world, which is that the state-of-the-art rostering is the "ad hoc" roster. The manager does not start out with a fixed conception of roster lines, but takes into account ward and staff needs to build something that suits both.

The roster matter has now gone before the NSW Industrial Commission and NSWNA members will hear a report back at a forum on June 18. To keep informed of the wage claim and the rostering issue visit

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