Victorian nurses and hospital managers are negotiating tonight, to try to reach an agreement over pay and conditions. The heroic nurses in their brave 'struggle for wage justice' have imposed work bans for the past 6 days that have closed more than 1200 hospital beds and the cancellation of 500 elective operations.
The union has rejected the government's pay offer of 3.25% per year over 5 years. The Australian Nurses Federation (ANF) wants 6% a year over three years, and a guarantee that nurse-patient ratios would not be abolished – in other words they refuse to consider productivity improvements. The nurses are raiding the public purse and hoping that the threat of spill-over from their actions onto the Federal election prospects of the Labor Party will help secure the delivery of extra public money.
Watch for the surge in such actions by health workers and others who dip into the public purse if Labor has power both Federally and in all the States. Already, state public servants and increasing their take from the public trough faster than the average wage earner.
With 70% of Labor's front bench being ex-union officials and the unions having contributed $20 million towards the anti-WorkChoices campaign that has created irrational support for Rudd you would have to be monumentally naive not to believe a payback will be required. It will be the usual self-defeating Labor story - more strikes because Labor markets are tight, higher inflation and higher unemployment to the detriment of all.
The nurses' union defied an order from the Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) to end the work bans this morning. The Victorian Health Minister, Daniel Andrews, says if bans are not lifted by tomorrow morning, the IRC could issue a fine and hospital management could ask for Federal Court intervention. "You can't have a situation where the decisions that go your way are fine and proper, but the decisions that don't go your way you can thumb your nose at," he said.
But the ANF’s Lisa Fitzpatrick says nurses won't be swayed until an ‘acceptable’ agreement is reached – until their wage demands bolstered by a threat to community health are met.
Ms. Fitzpatrick is outraged that nurses have been threatened with having their pay docked for participating in the bans. In fact the law insists that this be the case. Alec Djoneff, of the Victorian Hospitals Industrial Association, says the Association will ask the Federal Court tomorrow to enforce the orders made by the IRC. The Federal Court can fine each nurse $6600 and the union up to $35,000 for each breach of the order.
Those sanctions pre-date WorkChoices and give the court discretion to seize personal assets if a union member refuses to pay the fine. The Government should enforce vthis law but won’t. The State Government says it is powerless to prevent the enforcement of these fines – they should just enforce them if necessary.