Leadership of NSW nurses’ union undermines public sector-wide pay fight

NURSES IN NSW have accepted a pay deal in exchange for a raft of “trade offs” that strip back work conditions. The nurses’ is the latest in a string of public sector disputes where unions are battling state Labor governments’ below-inflation pay caps.

Inflation was running at 4.2 per cent last quarter. Yet the NSW state government is offering pay rises of only 2.5 per cent unless workers accept trade-offs.

The deal will see nurses receive 3.9 per cent pay increases for two years—which is still less than inflation. But in exchange the government extracted cuts to conditions including capping the number of days off workers can accumulate and lower pay when filling a higher position.

Many nurses were angry about the trade-offs. According to Jenny Haines, an activist in the union:

This set of offsets is reprehensible in the current circumstances where the Association had a lot of bargaining power. Canterbury and Concord, the inner city community nurses, Tweed Heads, Moruya Branches voted against. I heard that the vote on the North Coast was 40 per cent against and probably more or less the same on the South Coast. Organisers were instructed to persuade members to vote in favour of the package.

This is a much higher no vote than the union’s leadership claimed. They refused to put up any fight—telling members their only option other than accepting the deal was to ask for an industrial relations commission decision, which would have taken months and possibly delivered a worse outcome. There was no attempt to organise any industrial action.

The deal reduces the chance of a public sector wide campaign by unions to break the government’s pay limit and demand money for public services. Teachers and train drivers are still to negotiate pay deals this year. Ninety-five per cent of train drivers voted for industrial action in their recent ballot, and the union has threatened strikes disrupting World Youth Day. The public servants’ union and firefighters’ union claims are currently before the industrial relations commission.

Last week NSW public sector unions including public servants, firefighters and train drivers met and agreed to a united day of action on July 30, to include work bans and other protest actions. A concerted campaign of united strike action is needed to break the government’s pay limit.

James Supple

Magazine

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