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Big pay win

Friday, 22nd July, 2011

By Craig Brealey

There is no dispute that hospital nurses have been underpaid but working out how to reimburse them will be a very hard job indeed, according to the hospital’s chief executive.

The NSW Nurses Association said that for the last six years or more 165 of its members employed by the hospital had not been paid the penalty rates due to them when they went on holidays.

Nurses who do shift work could be entitled to up to $300 a fortnight in back pay, said the Association which was discussing the matter at its annual conference in Sydney this week. 

However, the chief executive of the Far West Local Health District, Stuart Riley, said yesterday that the hospital’s pay office would have to go back through the rosters and pay sheets from the previous six years to determine how much each nurse was owed.

Adding to the complexity is the fact that, according to the nurses’ award, when calculating holiday pay the pay office has to work out which rate gave the nurses more money - the penalty rate or the 17.5 per cent leave loading - and then pay them at whichever rate is higher.

The hospital has only one pay officer who, Mr Riley said, will also have to look at the old rosters to see what shift each nurse was working before they went on holiday.

He said that the problem started many years ago.

Nurses going on holiday have to fill out a form showing what shifts they have worked in order to claim the penalty rate. This is called a “projected roster”.

If they did not use this form they were paid the leave loading, Mr Riley said.

But they could also fill out another form if they wanted the leave loading, he said.

Mr Riley said it had yet to be shown who was at fault - the nurses or the hospital - but that either way it had created a “quagmire.”

“We will have to pull everyone’s records and see what they worked. Some might be no better off, some who worked four weekends might be worse off,” he said.

Another option was to take a series of rosters and work out an average difference, Mr Riley said.

“Our pay office is one person so it has to be a process that is actually manageable,” he said.

The Nurses Association said the same problem had been found in other hospitals in NSW and Mr Riley said it would be a big help if he could find out if another health service was dealing with it.

“That’s one of the advantages of a big health service,” he said. “It’s rare that you won’t find another who hasn’t encountered a similar problem.”

Bonnie Tavian, the secretary of the local branch of the Nurses Association, is attending the conference at Randwick racecourse and she said yesterday that the nurses were only seeking what they were entitled to.

Ms Tavian said nurses who work two weekends a month should accumulate one weekend’s worth of penalty rates as holiday pay but that this had not happened.

“They are effectively taking a pay cut when they go on holiday,” she said.

The Nurses Association said that it hoped to hear soon from the local health about how much reimbursement would be paid.

It said an average will be worked out and this figure will be considered by the Association. If it is acceptable then local nurses will vote on whether to take it, the Association said.  

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