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Ask Paul: enterprise agreement myths – ratios and raising concerns

Ask Paul: enterprise agreement myths – ratios and raising concerns

Paul Gilbert, ANMF (Vic Branch) Assistant Secretary

When speaking with members, our staff often hear myths – or misunderstandings – about entitlements in their enterprise agreement. Branch Assistant Secretary Paul Gilbert sets the record straight on some of the most common myths.

He has already addressed myths about personal and long service leave, and about rostering and shifts. This month, he looks at myths about ratios (in the public and private sectors) and raising concerns.

The public sector agreement sets the benchmark for when we negotiate private employer agreements so the answers below may apply in private sector workplaces, but you will need to check your EBA to be sure. You can do so via the member portal.

Job Reps – keep an eye out in the new year for the Reading Your Agreement course, which is designed to help you better understand the structure, content and legal status of EBAs, as well as some of the basic principles for reading and applying EBA provisions.

Myths about ratios and raising concerns

Ratios are in our EBA

From 2000 to 2015, nurse and midwife patient ratios in the public sector were contained in the public sector EBA.

Since 2015, the ratios have been in the Safe Patient Care Act, and amendments have been made to improve on those ratios. There are no longer ratios in the EBA.

Staffing levels, whether by ratios or other mechanisms, are the most difficult things to achieve in enterprise bargaining.

What about in the private sector?

In private acute and day procedure centres, minimum staffing levels are contained in the Regulations. These Regulations are currently under review and private acute members have assisted in the development of the ANMF submission to the Department of Health calling for minimum nurse-to-patient and midwife-to-patient ratios in general and speciality areas identical to, or closely aligned with, those in the public sector.

My employer knows how hard we are working; I don’t need to raise my concerns do I?

Perhaps your employer knows how hard you are working, but if there was an adverse event because of staff shortages, for example, would they admit it? Possibly not.

Remember what you learnt about writing in patient histories? If it isn’t written down, it didn’t happen.

Missed care is the most common consequence of staff shortfalls or poor staffing, and missed care can obviously have consequences for those we care for. If an employer knowingly allows missed care to happen, they could be legally liable for the adverse consequences. Your report puts the employer on notice. Multiple reports suggest a systemic problem. Formal reports can be secured by lawyers representing a patient, and hence employers know they need to have evidence they have acted on the report. In the absence of reports they can seek to blame the individual employee (you) for not advising them.

Another great reason for making formal incident reports relates to your employer’s obligations to provide a safe system of work. Short staffing can lead not only to psychological injury, but is also likely to increase the chances of exposure to occupational violence. Again, these incident reports can be legal documents, used by lawyers in civil proceedings, or by WorkSafe.

Finally, and importantly, all EBAs contain a dispute settlement procedure, and in most EBAs that procedure can be applied to staffing disputes. When ANMF try to escalate a staffing dispute with an employer, it is very difficult to get traction if there are no accompanying incident forms. The dispute settlement procedure isn’t about a dispute between ANMF and your employer; it is ANMF acting on behalf of one or more members of the ANMF, and if we don’t tick that box, we cannot escalate the dispute to the Fair Work Commission.

See the previous myths debunked by Paul.