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Wage deal victory

Thursday, 24th February, 2011

Brett Holmes Brett Holmes

'This is an historic victory for members and patients'
- Brett Holmes

By Gina Wilson

The Industrial Relations Commission will this week be asked to formalise an "historic" wages deal between the NSW Government and nurses.

After a protracted industrial campaign, which included the closure of more than 600 beds in NSW hospitals, nurses on Monday voted for a new agreement that would not only see an extra 1,400 full-time equivalent nurses put into the public system, but would give them an almost 10 per cent pay rise over three years.

Hinged on the one-to-four nurse to patient ratio, the NSW Nurses Association (NSWNA) led the charge on behalf of thousands of registered nurses, enrolled nurses and assistants in nursing who are working in the public system.

NSWNA's general secretary, Brett Holmes, said the deal, agreed to by 90 per cent of the union's members, would be a win for everyone.

"This is an historic victory for members and patients in NSW," Mr Holmes said.

Broken Hill was one of the first branches to vote on the agreement, with 100 per cent of local nurses voting in favour.

"It's really good because it's about patient care," BH president Leanne Barber said.

The agreement includes a pay rise to come in three parts: the first at 3.9 per cent, backdated to July 2010; the second increase of three per cent in July next year; and a further 2.5 per cent pay increase in July 2012.

Recruitment of 1,400 new nurses would start now, with the new nurses brought in between next month and June 2013.

The deal also guarantees the replacement of absences with a nurse of the same classification where possible which, Mrs Barber said, was crucial.

"RNs will be replaced by RNs, AINs will be replaced by AINs," she said.

"We've got to look after our nurses."

While the one-to-four ratio was not granted by NSW Health, its director-general, Professor Debora Picone, said a nurse to patient ratio based on the Nursing Hours per Patient Day model, would mean more local choices.

"It gives nurse manager greater flexibility to best deploy staff at a local level," Professor Picone said.

"This approach to staffing is based on the number of hours it takes to provide quality nursing are to patients in different types of facilities, with a graduated difference based on the type of facility.

"It will increase the number of nurses rostered in public hospital in-patient wards, extending to palliative care, rehabilitation and, acute adult mental health wards, as well as speciality areas such as EDs ..."

Mrs Barber said that should mean nurses had time to be more compassionate.

"You'll be able to spend more time with patients ... hold their hands while they're dying," she said.

"We can go on to full on care, compassionate care."

The NSWNA recommended nurses vote for the deal that, while not ticking all the boxes, was a good step forward.

"The new offer does not deliver everything we asked for, particularly for Community and Community Mental Health members," it said.

"While there was no breakthrough this time around, stronger Award language will support the enforcement of safer staffing in these areas.

"However, the offer makes enormous headway in our campaign for safe patient care through nurse to patient ratios as equivalents to nursing hours per patient day (NHPPD)."

Mrs Barber said she hoped the deal would keep more nurses in the wards.

"I hope the pay rise will keep the nurses. I hope it will," she said.

"(But) there's also job satisfaction. I think morale will improve - that's what I hope, anyway."

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