Australia: Nurses union promotes Labor election campaign in New South Wales
Amid growing anger and opposition from health workers over deteriorating wages, chronic understaffing and relentless workloads, the NSW Association of Nurses and Midwives (NSWNMA) has intensified its collaboration with the Labor opposition in the state and seeks to transform the nurses’ dispute. in a supplement to the Labor Party’s election campaign.
NSWNMA General Secretary Shaye Candish and Deputy General Secretary Michael Whaites appeared alongside Opposition Leader Chris Minns at a press conference on September 21, to promote Labor’s platform of “reforming the public health” before the March 2023 state elections.
The announcement follows four 24-hour statewide strikes by NSWNMA public sector members since the start of 2022. Nurses have demanded minimum nurse-to-patient ratios of 1:3 on wards emergency and 1: 4 in the quarters, as well as a salary increase of 7%.
Their action has been deliberately isolated and limited by the union, which has rejected rank-and-file workers’ demands for unified action with other health workers and public sector employees, who face the same under-inflationary wage cap and to inability to work conditions.
The NSWNMA’s endorsement of Labor and Minns, which proudly said in August that it had “clashed with the nurses’ association over nurse-patient ratios” and insists that wage increases must be linked to gains in “productivity”, emphasizes the role of the union. as an executor of government and corporate cost reduction demands. This is a warning of the sellout prepared by the NSWNMA in the nurses dispute.
The Labor Party proposal would do nothing to alleviate the crisis in public health care, which has reached the proportions of complete collapse. This would see 1,200 nurses and midwives recruited into the system over four years, a financial commitment of just $175 million, on top of the current Liberal-National government commitment to hire some 10,148 full-time equivalents.
At the time of Prime Minister Dominic Perrottet’s announcement, the union said: ‘We still have no details on the number of new nurses and midwives in this announcement, where they will be posted or when they will be recruited. There is no guarantee that all positions will actually be recruited as the government intends to allocate funds to local health districts to use at their own discretion.
None of these concerns were addressed in Labor’s announcement. There is no indication of where the additional personnel will come from or how they will be deployed. Even if the number were reached, it would do nothing to solve the state’s longstanding health crisis, which has been exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The labor platform does not include legislated nurse-patient ratios, a key demand from nurses. Labor had promised in previous campaigns, including in 2019, to impose ratios if elected, but have since abandoned the policy. In May this year, the Labor Party rejected a recommendation for a parliamentary inquiry into mandatory nurse-patient ratios, on the grounds that there were no ‘up to date costs’. The Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated it would cost $1.3 billion over seven years.
Instead, Labor has proposed “safe and enforceable staffing levels” in emergency departments, intensive care units, maternity wards and multi-purpose wards, which provide integrated healthcare and elderly care in rural areas. This excludes other areas of health services, including paediatrics, mental health care unions and outpatient clinics.
Although NSW Labor has not stated what their “minimum safe manning” actually equates to, the NSWNMA claimed that this would mean 1:3 in emergency services, 1:4 in medical and surgical services and 1: 3 in maternity and postnatal, which does not include the care required for babies.
In multi-purpose wards, which the NSWNMA says are typically only staffed with two nurses at night, the minimum requirement would be increased to three, and only in facilities with a 24/7 emergency service. 7.
This would be implemented by converting the current nursing staffing requirement per patient day to minimum staffing levels within the nurse and midwifery award. The Liberal-National and Labor governments, in conjunction with the NSWNMA, have used successive industrial rewards to force through decades of cuts to jobs, wages and conditions, deepening the hospital staff crisis.
Labor’s limited proposal also did not include a response to the nurses’ pay demand. The Liberal-National government is currently offering a 3% wage “increase” – well below the official inflation rate of 6.1% – on top of years of stagnant or falling real wages.
Despite the meager and tokenistic nature of Labor policies, NSWNMA’s Candish hailed “a fantastic announcement”, which would allow nurses to “take the pressure off the current government now”.
The union’s support for Labour’s pitiful offer and its efforts to channel workers’ opposition behind futile new calls for the Liberal-National government and the campaign to elect Labor next year is a dead end for workers.
In other states where Labor is in power, including Victoria, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory, the ratios are legislated but never met because they have come with cuts in funding. The chronic understaffing in hospitals has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is a direct result of the homicidal “let it go” policies adopted by all Australian governments and only deepened since the entry into force. Labor function.
The experiences of workers in other states should serve as a warning to nurses in NSW, that no trust can be placed in labour, or party-promoting unions, to enforce safe working conditions.
Ahead of the May election, the federal Labor opposition backed the Liberal-National government’s federal budget, which cut health spending by more than 10% in real terms. Since being elected in May, Albania’s Labor government has also rejected calls from states and the Australian Medical Association to increase federal funding for public hospitals.
Labour, the Liberal-National Coalition and the entire capitalist establishment have demonstrated during the pandemic their willingness to sacrifice workers’ health and lives for the sake of corporate profit. Last week, the federal Labor government, along with the state Labor and Liberal administration, announced the end of COVID isolation requirements and pandemic leave payments for COVID-positive workers, paving the way for a new push.
Throughout the pandemic, unions, including health unions, have worked with big business and the government to “reopen the economy”, remove public health measures to stop the spread of the virus and force workers to go to unsafe workplaces, despite the danger to their health and life from COVID-19.
Nurses and midwives have overwhelmingly voiced their opposition to the NSWNMA’s promotion of labour. Hundreds of comments on the NSWNMA Facebook page condemned the announcement and called for further strike action.
One nurse wrote, “Give us the ratios we need, not what a bean counter thinks we should have. Another wrote: ‘I remember the last time Labor promised a better deal for nurses before they came to power – nothing really changed once they came. I don’t believe they will keep their promise.
This reflects the growing determination of workers to fight, however, this fight cannot be fought in the straitjacket of labor and unions.
The recent experiences of nurses at Lifehouse, a private cancer treatment center in Sydney, are instructive. Rank and file nurses penned an open letter to the NSWNMA condemning the union leadership’s tacit endorsement of a sell-out company deal and calling for a ‘no’ vote against it.
The open letter and the “vote no” campaign were important first steps, which resulted in the massive rejection of the agreement. This demonstrates that, to advance their struggles, health care workers must break free from the shackles of unions and take matters into their own hands.
What is needed is a complete break with the union bureaucracy and a struggle to establish rank-and-file committees in every hospital and workplace, which can discuss and develop demands based on the real needs of workers and unite and coordinate their struggles across the country. and internationally.
Above all, the fight for safe, high-quality health care accessible to all requires a fight against the capitalist profit system and for socialism, to place health care under the democratic control of the working class on the based on social needs and not on private profit.