News

NSW nurses ‘See Red’ over O’Farrell’s failure to act on patient safety

Sunday 30th June, 2013

Many nurses and midwives at NSW public hospitals and community health services will wear something red to work today 1 July to protest against the state Government's failure to improve and extend safer nurse-to-patient ratios and the disreputable actions of the Premier, who has sent a misleading letter on the issue to some NSWNMA branches in the last two weeks.

Mr O'Farrell sent the misleading letter in response to letters he received, dealing with the staff ratios issue, from more than 60 NSWNMA branches (see list attached, sorted by Local Health District) which were delivered to his electorate office on May 31.

In the 19 June letter, Mr O'Farrell made the following misleading statement:

"I can advise that discussions between the NSW Ministry of Health and the Association (NSWNMA) about the claim (the NSWNMA's 2013 wages and ratios' claim for a new award) have begun. By necessity these proceedings are confidential to enable the parties to freely discuss the issues. It would be premature to make any comment on the outcome of those discussions before they are completed."

The truth is the O'Farrell Government made a court application on May 30, nearly three weeks before the Premier sent this letter, to lock in a new Award that does not include nursing hours system improvements. At the time Mr O'Farrell distributed the letter his government was also seeking, again through court action, to discount the already-capped annual pay rises for public sector workers by 0.25 percent to absorb the increases in compulsory superannuation.

The NSWNMA is trying to finalise a new nurses and midwives award with the state Government, which replaces the 2010-11 award that expired yesterday, June 30.

NSWNMA general secretary, Brett Holmes, said the NSWNMA is appalled by the Premier's behaviour and nurses and midwives who have received the dishonest letter are furious.

"The state Government is clearly using its dictatorial industrial relations laws and court action to enforce a sub-standard award on NSW nurses and midwives, yet Mr O'Farrell tries to create the false impression that the issues are still being discussed around the negotiating table.

"That has also made many NSWNMA members ‘See Red' over the State Government's actions and more determined to continue their campaign for safer staffing levels. A special meeting of NSWNMA workplace delegates will be held on 16 July to determine the next steps in this campaign.

"The Premier should immediately correct the public record and apologise for this dishonest letter.

"He should also cease all legislative and court action underway, which is clearly aimed at over-riding our claim. Instead, the O'Farrell Government should negotiate a new nurses and midwives award, which provides safer staffing levels in all NSW public hospitals and community health services and in all clinical units in those hospitals and health services.

"The 2013-14 NSW budget papers confirm there is no financial reason for the O'Farrell government to keep depriving seriously ill children, emergency departments, high dependency units, community health services and rural hospitals and multipurpose services of safer, mandated minimum nursing staff levels.

"Deficit and debt levels are so miniscule that there is no excuse for NSW delaying the next stage of nurse staffing reform in our public hospitals and community health services.

"The 2013-14 budget papers also show that claims by the State treasurer that the government will have to cut 8000 jobs unless they can absorb the superannuation increase in the 2.5 per cent wages cap are rubbish

"The state Government calls its commitment to the Gonski education reforms and the National Disability Insurance Scheme ‘transformative policy' (2013-14 NSW Budget Paper 2, p. 1-7), Well, the introduction of mandated, minimum nurse-to-patient ratios in public hospitals and the introduction of mandated safer nursing and midwifery staffing arrangements in community health services is also ‘transformative policy' and the state Government should get on with it," Mr Holmes said.

Nurse-to-patient ratios - background information

The statewide 'Ratios put patient safety first' campaign was launched in Sydney on Tuesday, 19 March. A record 214 NSWNMA branches, representing more than 30,000 public-sector nurses and midwives throughout NSW, have endorsed the NSWNMA's ratios and wages claim, which was then formally presented to the state Government, through the Health Ministry, on March 11.

The current Public Health System Nurses & Midwives (State) Award expired on 30 June 2013.
A key feature of the 2013 claim is guaranteed, safer nursing and midwifery levels for seriously ill children, emergency departments, high dependency units and rural hospitals and multipurpose services, and safer nursing and midwifery staffing arrangements in community health services.

The claim also includes two 2.5 percent per year payrises, which will provide the majority of experienced, full-time nurses and midwives with a payrise of more than $70.00 per week, or more than $3800.00 per year, by July 2014.

In mid-May the state Government formally responded to the NSWNMA claim with an unacceptable offer for a new wages and conditions agreement. At the NSWNMA's bimonthly Committee of Delegates meeting, on 21 May, workplace delegates from around the state rejected the inadequate offer. They are angry the O'Farrell Government is:

  • refusing to extend mandated minimum nurse-to-patient ratios to seriously ill children, emergency departments, high dependency units and rural hospitals and multipurpose services, and provide safer nursing and midwifery staffing arrangements in community health services; and
  • seeking to further discount the annual 2.5 per cent payrise to absorb the scheduled 0.25 per cent rise in compulsory employer superannuation from 1 July 2013.

The state Government has in turn told the NSWNMA it will now get the NSW Industrial Relations Commission (NSW IRC) to make a new pay and conditions award for nurses and midwives, based on this sub-standard offer. Dictatorial industrial relations laws introduced by the O'Farrell Government, since its election in March 2011, have significantly reduced the independence of the NSW IRC in these matters.

However, last week the NSW IRC ruled that the state Government could not discount the 2.5 per cent annual pay rise to absorb the superannuation increase. The state Government has since moved, last Friday 28 June, to legislate to further restrict the powers of the NSW IRC in these matters and has also indicated it will appeal the decision.