Nurses defy the law to defend the health system and jobs

Nurses in Victoria have staged weeks of rolling strikes in defiance of anti-strike laws as they fight to defend staffing ratios in public hospitals. Nurses were expecting a new offer on pay and conditions from the Baillieu government as Solidarity went to press.

The rolling stoppages involving over 1000 nurses, midwives and mental health nurses across 15 hospitals have shown their power to defend the health system.

The Australian Nurses Federation (ANF) has now suspended strike action after the government agreed to fresh negotiations, saying it is confident of reaching agreement.

Nurses showed how to take “illegal” strike action in spite of the threat of fines from Fair Work Australia of $6600 against individual nurses and up to $33,000 against the union for breaching Federal Court orders.

But employer group the Victorian Hospitals’ Industrial Association agreed to drop legal action pursuing fines to return to talks with the union. Baillieu wasted more than $1.4 million on legal costs fighting the ANF in court.

This was the second time during the dispute that nurses have defied Fair Work orders to continue industrial action, after they voted to defy orders in November last year. The return to rolling stoppages followed the failure of a stunt in which nurses threatened mass resignations if the government refused to give in.

Victorian nurses set an example by defying Fair Work Australia

The Baillieu government’s secret log of claims leaked to the media outlined plans to “override” 1:4 nurse-to-patient ratios, replace nurses’ jobs with “health assistants” and cut $473 million from the nursing budget.

Its 2.5 per cent a year pay offer is not only an insult to the nurses demand to “respect our work” but an outright pay cut, given inflation is running at 3.1 per cent.

Public support for the nurses has been overwhelming. Members of the public turned up to support nurses’ protests outside hospitals and show their support.

Nurse Kimberly Ferguson explained that, “hearing the community support, from people beeping their cars and on the trams, it’s really lifted our spirits”. Around 30,000 people signed an online petition supporting them.

The Baillieu government dug in its heels, dragging the dispute out for over eight months. It is seeking to “hold the line” to cap pay rises for all public sector workers—nurses, teachers and state public servants—to just 2.5 per cent.

The nurses action can give confidence to workers everywhere about their ability to fight back—and defy Labor’s Fair Work Australia laws to organise effective industrial action.

Feiyi Zhang

Update: The Nurses Federation announced they have reached a deal with the Victorian government. They have kept nurse patient ratios and defied the government’s 2.5 per cent wage cap for the public sector. Congratulations to the nurses for their determination and their victory.


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