The community rallies I wrote about a couple of days ago were in full swing this time a year ago – Maroondah and Monash Medical Centre had been visited, and today it was the turn of more regional hospitals – Geelong, Sale, Latrobe Regional Hospital and Colac. I suspect that the ANF staff were no yet sick of the sight, smell and thought of sausages, though that would come.

The central issues for nurses and midwives were:

  • work load, which had not been increased in the eleven years since ANF (Vic. branch) achieved the world’s first nurse/midwife: patient ratios;
  • staffing, by ensuring that all those providing nursing or midwifery care were accountable, educated, and registered; and
  • that care would be provided with safety and continuity, which means full-length shifts.

Our negotiations were framed by the government and by the media as being a pay dispute. In fact, until ANF (Vic. branch) Secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick refused to give interviews to reporters who didn’t include ratios in their coverage, this key aspect was wholly omitted from the public discourse, even though it was a key plank (along with skill mix and save hours).

Victorian nurses and midwives are significantly underpaid in comparison to our interstate colleagues – a Nurse Practitioner in NSW earns $10/hr more than a Nurse Practitioner in Victoria, for instance, and that difference is relatively consistent all the way up and down the qualification spectrum.

As State Secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick said,

Yes, we want a pay increase, and we’re not ashamed that we want a pay increase. But the critical thing about our dispute is about maintaining and improving our nurse: patient ratios. The reason you become a nurse or a midwife is because you want to make a difference. You want to be in a sector that’s actually a service sector, that actually adds to the value of the community’s life, and that you advocate for patients, and that you make a real difference – and that’s why we became nurses in the first instance.

At the same time we don’t want to be taken advantage of, and therefore not paid what we’re worth. If we were paid what we were worth we certainly couldn’t be afforded by any government, but it’s quite critical that we do get a significant wage increase during this dispute.

And that’s it, in a twenty-minute address, except to point out that, in the six months since negotiations had opened, there had not been one discussion between ANF and VHIA about pay. But don’t take my word for it – hear her for yourself.

We know from local and international research that the changes the government wanted to introduce would lengthen patient stay, increase costs, and reduce patient outcomes – fewer qualified staff means more falls, more infections, more pneumonia, more errors, higher rates of failure to rescue, more cardiorespiratory arrests, more and longer ICU stays, and more deaths. And this is standard for the Baillieu government’s attitude in general – short-term financial gain, regardless of the long-term costs, both financial and intangible.

We can’t rely on our government to safeguard the best interests of the electorate – and that means that, come November 29th 2014, we have to make sure that this is a One Term government. A year, eleven months, three weeks and two days is not nearly long enough for us to forget, and we will not only remember but remind our colleagues and the public.