The ending of work bans on October 25 by nurses in Victorian public hospitals saw the end of a bitter dispute and a victory for nurses, their union and for the entire Victorian public.
The nurses, who were in dispute with the Victorian state Labor Government voted at a mass meeting to agree to the terms of a new 3 year union agreement. The agreement included the right to maintain nurse patient ratios, (with some improvement in the most needed areas) a pay increase between 3.8% and 6.0% per year and a guaranteed 200 extra jobs for nurses. The proposal by the Government to introduce longer and shorter shifts was rejected.
Whilst all of the union’s demands were not met and there was a chance that they could have won an even bigger pay rise if the union leaders had argued to fight on, this dispute has shown that even under the repressive Work Choice legislation it is possible to win concessions.
This dispute was always going to set a precedent for all Victorian public sector workers. Either the government would set it in their favour or the union would stand strong and lay down a marker for all public sector workers. Thanks to the brave fight of the nurses the precedent has been set in favour of the workers.
The Victorian Labor Government must be held accountable for this dispute. It was because they did not give in to the nurse’s demands earlier that the dispute jeopardised patient safety. Victorian Premier John Brumby originally refused to agree to a pay rise over 3.25% (less than the rate of inflation!) and wanted to do away with nurse patient ratios. This left nurses with no other choice but to fight.
Brumby was also was not shy about using Howard’s Work Choices legislation – simply stating that “the law is the law”. The use of these laws saw thousands of nurses intimidated and bullied in their work places. Brumby’s behavior is just a taste of what a Federal Labor government would be like in power.
The docking of individual nurses pay of 4 hours when they refused to admit non-emergency patients was disgraceful. Some health areas, such as Western Health, refused to pay nurses for the entire shift-although they were still looking after up to 3 patients. Many have found themselves missing out on a weeks pay. Over 400 nurses walked out of the Monash Medical Centre due to bullying from the executive.
The work bans saw up to 1800 beds closed across the state and the cancellation of many elective surgeries. The Australian Nurses Federation (Nurses Union) campaign and the hard work of nurses ensured that there was overwhelming public support for the campaign with many patients asking nurses if Brumby had caved in yet.
The Socialist Party calls for the immediate reimbursement of lost pay for nurses by the Brumby Government. We fully defend the rights of workers to take industrial action and fight against the use of intimidation and bullying in the workplace.
We congratulate each and every nurse who stood firm and made this dispute a victory for not only nurses but every worker.
By Socialist Party reporters