NSW public hospital nurses will strike for the first time in almost a decade, as frustration over understaffing, pay and conditions boilover.
Votes on industrial action are still underway in some branches, but the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association’s says a majority have endorsed the industrial action on Tuesday.
Thousands of nurses will walk off the job for up to 24 hours in a statewide strike, says the union, which represents 48,000 nurses in NSW public hospitals.
“We don’t recommend industrial action lightly, especially when a pandemic is still underway, but the status quo can’t continue, NSWNMA General Secretary Brett Holmes said on Wednesday.
“We can’t return to pre-COVID-19 staffing levels when we were already in crisis.”
The Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney is considering a full day strike, while nurses at Westmead and Cumberland hospitals will likely strike for 12 hours.
Skeleton staff – enough to care for the critically ill and preserve life – will remain at work.
The strike will also coincide with rallies across the state, with members to flock to NSW Parliament on its first sitting day of the year.
Rallies will also be held in Newcastle, Coffs Harbour, Bathurst, Bega, Lismore and Tamworth.
It is the first statewide strike since July 2013, and comes as NSW hospitals remain on high alert amid the pandemic, with staff furloughed as the COVID-19 patient load remains high.
The union’s primary ask is that the government combat understaffing by implementing nursing and midwifery staffing ratios, as in Queensland and Victoria.
“If the premier wants a well-staffed, well trained and resilient nursing and midwifery workforce in the public health system, then he must act now and implement shift by shift ratios across NSW,” Mr Holmes said.
A fair pay rise, above the 2.5 per cent offered by the government, and no changes to COVID-19 workers compensation are among its demands.
The government is seeking to scrap an automatic presumption under workers’ compensation rules that essential workers were infected with the virus at work.
If successful, essential workers – including doctors, nurses, paramedics, teachers and supermarket workers – will have to prove they caught COVID-19 on the job to access compensation, something unions say is virtually impossible.