Recently, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) handed down its decision on the wages case for nurses in general practice. The ANF lodged a claim for a low paid bargaining authorisation on behalf of nurses in general practice employed in NSW, Victoria and Tasmania at the end of 2011. What followed was a lengthy hearing process involving registered and enrolled nurses working in general practice, employers, unions and expert witnesses from the general practice and education sectors.
Disappointingly, the decision of the FWC was to reject the ANF application. This, however, was by no means the greatest cause for disappointment. Of far greater concern to me, as a registered nurse, was the response from our medical colleagues in the media. Both doctors and employer groups claimed victory with great gusto. Despite the FWC finding that nurses could not technically be defined as low paid employees, evidence that many employers were paying their nurse/s the award minimum was not challenged in the case. It is deeply disturbing that doctors would openly celebrate the exploitation of their nursing colleagues. Nurses in general practice remain the most poorly paid nurses in Australia. That’s certainly nothing to slap yourself on the back for!
In the general practice setting, more often than not, the GP is not only the nurses’ health professional colleague, but also their employer. I would like to think that many GP employers are simply unaware of the wages and conditions that they should be providing for their nurse employees in general practice, but sadly this is often not the case. Nurses in general practice, knowingly or otherwise, continue to be paid considerably less than their nursing colleagues in the acute care sector. This occurs even though the required scope of nursing practice in general practice is as broad a scope as for any other health care setting. It is not only the rate of pay that is at issue, it’s also conditions of employment including entitlements such as leave loading, on-call rates, shift penalties, weekend allowances, annual leave, and qualifications allowance. Some hourly rates paid to nurses in general practice look pretty reasonable until you look closer and consider the range of conditions that have been overlooked.
Although the ANF claim was unsuccessful, benefits have ensued from the wages case. During the case, some nurses’ wages and conditions were, in fact, improved. Admittedly, this was from a fairly low base. The application has also led to fruitful negotiations with several general practice employers for an enterprise agreement to apply to their nurse employees. An ANF agreement signed with Healthscope, a large corporate medical centre employer, takes effect mid-2013. Such negotiated agreements should be applauded and replicated by all employers.
Shame on those who would see the exploitation of nurses in general practice as a win!
Federal Senior Professional Officer