QLD Nurse & midwife shift-breaks award breach case

Tuesday 9th October, 2012

1. QNU case is not a test case - it’s a standard award breach case

2. What is the State Government’s real agenda on people’s workplace rights and patient safety?

Claims by State Government representatives – reported in today’s Courier-Mail newspaper – that a case being brought against Queensland Health, for breaches of the “Rest breaks between shifts” provisions of the Queensland Health Nurses and Midwives Award State–2011, is a test case are wrong and smack of a mischievous attempt to intimidate workers out of taking action, the Queensland Nurses Union (QNU) said today.

The case is being brought by the QNU, on behalf of nurses and midwives who have not received the full ten-hour break between shifts on various occasions in recent years. At this stage applications have been lodged in the Industrial Magistrates Court on behalf of four nurses and another 92 possible applications are under consideration. Eighty-nine of those applications involve nurses or midwives on the Gold Coast.

QNU secretary, Beth Mohle, said this is a standard case being brought for a breach of the award and they are everyday activities for unions here in Queensland and around Australia.

“To suggest there is something groundbreaking about all this is nonsense and raises questions about what the State Government is trying to achieve by making the reported threats about reviewing award conditions and rostering practices.

“We have a number of members who, in recent years, have not always been given the full ten hours break between shifts and had not formally entered into an agreement for an eight hour break. That means they are entitled to financial compensation for each time that has occurred.

“Under the award nurses and midwives must have, in summary, a minimum ten-hour break between shifts. This can be altered to eight hours by written agreement between the nurse or midwife and their employer.

“However, last year QNU officials became aware of possible breaches of this award provision on the Gold Coast. We have not been able to settle the matter with Queensland Health and so now we have this fairly standard prosecution to try and achieve justice for these members.

“For example, we have one case where we are alleging the award has been breached on about 30 occasions in the last three years and we estimate the award provides for about $7500.00 in compensation for this member. Another case involves about 80 alleged award breaches over 5.5 years and we calculate compensation at about $17,000.00.

“The point is, if the employer breaches the award then they are liable for these perfectly reasonable amounts – amounts that involve alleged breaches over a number of years.

“It is the responsibility of the State Government to ensure its departments and agencies comply with their award obligations. Threatening to review award entitlements just because nurses and midwives stand up for their legal entitlements is another serious attack, by this State Government, on the workplace rights of nurses, midwives and other shift workers.

“What is also of concern is the workplace safety aspect of this issue. These shift-break provisions are not only in the award for the benefit of workers. They are there to protect safe patient care, which could easily be compromised by the presence of fatigued nurses and midwives.

“We are constantly being bombarded with messages about not driving when fatigued. Well, you should not be caring for patients either when you are fatigued.

“I can assure the State Government that the QNU will be proceeding with this case. We will also campaign hard, right up until the next election, against any removal of the workplace rights and award conditions of nurses and midwives,” Ms Mohle said.