In June we said goodbye to retiring Senior Industrial Officer Nick Blake who worked at the ANMF Federal Office for over 22 years.
There is much we will miss about Nick, not only as a much loved friend and colleague, but also his commitment, skilled advocacy and leadership representing the industrial interests of nurses, midwives and carers, whether it was before industrial tribunals, representations to government and other bodies, enterprise agreement negotiations or advice to ANMF branches and members.
Nick’s expert advice and guidance on all matters industrial, contributed enormously to the building of a strong national union providing a united voice for ANMF members and the nursing, midwifery and caring professions overall.
His work in the federal office was broad ranging covering workforce, legal and industrial matters representing the ANMF at both a national and international level.
Nick leaves with a proud record of achievement and while it is impossible to do justice to his 22 years as the senior industrial officer, we hope to convey some of the significance of his work through the following examples.
Nick’s time with the ANMF coincided with a period of momentous change in federal industrial relations laws beginning with the Workplace Relations Act 1996 and ending with the current Fair Work Act 2009. In between was the Howard government’s WorkChoices legislation with its extreme anti-worker agenda.
With each round of legislative change, the award system (setting minimum standards for wages and conditions) came under attack threatening many years of work developing common national industry rates of pay and conditions for nurses and midwives. This work established that nurses and midwives should be renumerated in accordance with their levels of responsibility, education and experience rather than based on the particular work setting or sector in which they are employed.
Nursing classifications, career structures and incremental advancement were, and continue to be, integral to maintaining proper national standards for nurses and midwives.
Despite years of attacks on these and other award entitlements, Nick’s expert guidance, negotiation and advocacy skills ensured key standards for nurses, midwives and carers were maintained and improved. He was also instrumental in achieving the making of the modern Nurses Award in the face of alternative proposals to split nursing pay and conditions across different sectors.
His work has also contributed to improvements in the wages and conditions of nurses through the development and implementation of federal industrial strategies for enterprise bargaining including input into various ANMF national and branch campaigns in the public, private and aged care sectors. Improvements in nursing wages and conditions have included the implementation of workload and staffing mechanisms such as nurse/patient ratios, professional development leave provisions and post graduate qualification allowances.
As one Branch industrial officer said recently, Nick has always been in the background providing advice and assistance in all that we do.
Nick worked with the Victorian Branch to secure significant wage increases for nurses working in the aged care sector and subsequently achieved similar results in a case for aged care nurses in the Northern Territory. In more recent times he won significant improvements for public sector community health nurses in Tasmania, resulting in new classifications and wage increases.
Nick had a long involvement in representing the interests of the ANMF regarding nursing workforce issues particularly those concerning permanent and temporary skilled migration. He worked with the ACTU and other unions to stop the exploitation and unfair treatment of nurses coming to Australia on temporary work visas, advocating that temporary visa workers receive the same wages and conditions as local nurses in the same workplace. Eventually adopted by the Labor government in 2008, this protection remains in place today.
While this overview is, at best, just a sample of Nick’s work with the ANMF, we hope it provides some insight into his contribution and commitment to the ANMF and the broader union movement.
This message from Emily Shepherd, ANMF Tasmanian Branch Secretary sums up Nick’s personal and professional approach to his work:
"The Tasmanian Branch has had a close working relationship with Nick and his support has always been unwavering. Smaller branches are often dependent on federal resources, but Nick went above and beyond to assist the Branch with his expert industrial advice in workload disputes, rule changes and numerous other disputes particularly related to bargaining and the implementation of new Agreements with the State Government. His calm, practical advice was always well received and the Tasmanian Branch Secretary, Branch Council and staff would like to thank Nick for his incredible support over many years and wish him all the best in his retirement."
On behalf of us all at Federal Office we say thank you to Nick and send him our very best wishes for the future.
Andrew McCarthy, Debbie Richards and Anna Amatangelo
Federal Industrial team