Victorian nurses vote for ‘last resort’ industrial action

4 minute read

The state government has a fortnight to avoid ward closures, work-to-rule, and elective surgery cancellations. Meanwhile, in Canberra ...

Victoria’s nurses are threatening to close a quarter of the state’s public hospital beds and cancel planned surgeries if the Allen government can’t come up with a better pay deal in the next fortnight.

Australian Nursing and Midwives Federation Victorian branch members rejected the government’s 3% wage increase offer at a meeting yesterday afternoon and voted for “last resort” industrial action, with 98% of members in favour of the move.

Union members can now take more than 25 actions in a staged series of measures beginning next week. Stage one measures include refusing to work overtime and wearing campaign shirts at work.

Stage two measures will kick in at 7am on Friday 17 May and include banning one in four elective surgery cases – exemptions for neonatal and paediatric cases and surgical terminations.

Members can also close up to a quarter of hospital beds, plus an additional two on every ward or unit – deemed as “emergency beds” to be used only for patients who will deteriorate “significantly” without care in the next 24 hours.

Outpatient nurses and midwives will be allowed to ban one in four new referrals and outpatient appointments. Aged care assessment and community health nurses can turn down up to a third of public health referrals.

According to the Herald Sun, other measures include:

  • staff working to rule, including full meal breaks and no overtime unless approved in advance and in writing;
  • stopping work for up to four hours to attend union meetings, provided doing so would not endanger patients or workers;
  • no recording or reporting of ambulance offload times at emergency departments;
  • no collecting and recording of patient data that is not required by law, and does not directly relate to patient or staff safety;
  • refusing to work in areas where campaign material – such as petitions and flyers – cannot be displayed.

ANMF Victoria branch secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick was quoted as saying “nurses and midwives take industrial action as a last resort when no one is listening to them”.

“These bans will be disruptive and may cause inconvenience, but they will not impact on patient health or welfare,” she said.

“The nursing and midwifery workforce is the backbone of the public health system, but it’s fractured.

“Hospital spending on unrostered and rostered overtime and agency nurses and midwives has doubled over the last four years alone. Hospitals could save a bucketload of money if they rebuild their permanent workforce.

“Reversing the casualisation of the workforce will take a higher and more nuanced package than the government’s blunt three per cent wages policy,” she was reported to say.

Victorian Health Minister Mary-Anne Thomas told the media the government “would always back our nurses and midwives and the extraordinary work they do to provide Victorians with world-class care”.

“Bargaining continues between the parties and we expect them to reach a resolution as soon as possible,” she said.

Meanwhile, in Canberra, the Community and Public Sector Union says the national capital is in “desperate” need of more health workers.

The next ACT election is in October, with a CPSU survey showing that the need for more healthcare workers was the territory’s top election issue, according to the Canberra Times.  

“CPSU members and the Canberra community want to know that something will be done to address the growing workforce crisis in the next term of government,” CPSU ACT regional secretary Maddy Northam was quoted as saying.

“Every day we hear stories of members getting called, texted, asking them to come in and do overtime shifts, more and more shifts because they just haven’t got enough staff to cover.

“What patients might face is delayed appointments, so they might need an appointment next week but they might have to wait a month or two or much longer to get that appointment and then the same with subsequent appointments.

“That’s really distressing for patients and their families to see their loved ones not getting all of the care they could potentially get if they had the right amount of staff.”

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