Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Problems with nurses a foretaste of the costs of Labor power

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.


Spiros said...


Do try to get your facts right. The Liberal propaganda that 70% of Labor's front bench are ex trade union officials is just plain wrong, for it includes people like Julia Gillard and Craig Emerson, who have never been union officials.

Happly, on this occasion, while the Liberals are following Dr Goebbels' dictum that if you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it, the lie isn't working, or at least not as intended. Have you had a Captain Cook at the latest Newspoll yet? Your boy is going down, old school.

As for the nurses, it's very simple. There is a shortage of nurses. The forces and demand and supply are creating the conditions through which they will get a big pay rise, the same as in any other market. The particular institutional arrangements by which the pay rise is delivered (through their union and the IRC) is a tenth order issue.

hc said...

You are trying to say that this strike action is an instance of market forces? If enough nurses work away then market forces will drive up wages.

Nobody denies that the Labor front bench is dominated by trade union officials and party hacks. Nobody. Whether you classify Gillard as a union official or not is moot. Enerson is not a bad bloke and yes not a trade union official but most of his pre-political career an advisor to Labor in power and a bureaucrat.

We are being led like lemmings off a cliff and will come to regret that which is now unfolding.

conrad said...

I agree with Spiros -- there is a shortage of nurses, which suggests their claims for more pay are realistic. Using authoritarian measures to force them to work is hardly going to make that situation better in the long run, even if it happens to work this time (even if you love them). The people you should be complaining about are those that have the money but are not willing to pay the costs of their own health bills (not unlike education for that matter).

conrad said...

Just looking at your other comment -- your idea that nurses can just walk away crazy. This is only a reasonable argument if there is a shortage of training places (say, like doctors) -- which there isn't. If lots of nurses don't work as worses, then that simply confirms they don't get paid enough for the conditions offered.

Spiros said...

Harry, do some googling and you will see with your own eyes that there is a shortage of nurses, Australia wide. This is partly because of growing demand and partly because they are paid SFA and are going to better paid jobs elsewhere in the booming economy.

Why you, as an economist, would be hostile to such an idea, I have no idea. Perhaps you are letting your political prejudices cloud your professional judgment.

As for the 70%, have you converted to post modernism? Facts matter. The Liberals are making claims about the Labor front bench that are objectively false. It is not moot whether Gillard is classified as a union official, because she has not been a union official.

If it is important that a certain number of Labor fronbenchers have been union officials, then the Liberals should use the correct figure.

Spiros said...

"We are being led like lemmings off a cliff"

It's a funny thing, Harry, that when most people agree with you, they are wise and far sighted, but when they don't, they are lemmings.

Maybe the problem lies closer to home.

Bring Back CL's blog said...

what do they mean Union official?

for example Kim Carr was a shop Steward when he was a teacher but he is on the list and research officer is hardly an official.

The other ironic thing is official which to my mind means secretary or equivalent needs vast skills in finaancial management, project management, multi-tasking. They are heading medium to large organisations.

compare this to say Howard or Costello who were juinor solicitor and barrister who would not been exposed tob any of these skills.

I do not believe it is a coincidence that our two best PMs were trade Union leaders.

After your rationalisation of increasing productivity in your own case , increased number of articles which increases costs not decreasing, then I am staggered if you understand productivity

hc said...

No Homer, neither Sir Robert Menzies or John Howard were trade union officials.

Spiros, I am not sure they are paid SFA. I checked around this morning.

On Gillard, OK she was an industrial lawyer who worked for trade unions. My mistake.

derrida derider said...

The Vic Health people must have rocks in their head. Their reponse to the nurse shortage is not only to refuse to meet the market with money, but to ensure that any nurses they want to recruit or retain in future knows what sort of workplace environment they'll be in. Expect Victorian nurse shortages to get much, much worse.

Spiros said...

The problem faced by the Victorian health authorities is that they can't respond to market forces by increasing their prices. But that is hardly the fault of the nurses.

Anonymous said...

Good to see that Spiros is a free market guy.

What next he'll advocate private hospitals? Spiros, Yes?

Spiros said...

Certainly. I've got no problem with private hospitals, none at all.