After two years, Job Reps, Health & Safety Reps and ANMF (Vic Branch) staff were all looking forward to a return to an in-person Delegates Conference in 2022. And for many, that’s what we got. In part.
Read on for an overview of the event. In next month’s OTR, we’ll have more details about individual presentations.
Annually, from 1993 until 2019, the Delegates Conference has been an important gathering of union staff and members – Job Reps and Health & Safety Reps (HSRs) – to influence the Branch’s direction for the coming years. Dels, as we colloquially refer to it, can shape change. It’s contributed to Branch positions on ratio improvements, improved workplace entitlements, marriage equality, voluntary assisted dying, environmentally sustainable practices in healthcare and even our name change from ANF to ANMF.
COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the 2020 Delegates Conference. The 2021 event was held virtually. This year’s event was scheduled to be held in-person on Thursday 30 June and Friday 1 July, but with the ongoing COVID-19 situation showing signs of worsening, the Branch made the difficult 11th-hour call to run a hybrid event instead, for the safety of all involved.
This meant switching the conference from one big event at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre to a semi-online event with 11 small satellite venues across the state. Delegates gathered in smaller groups at venues in outer Melbourne and the CBD, Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, Traralgon, Wangaratta and elsewhere (with some delegates also opting to participate from their homes), with each venue equipped with a large wall screen on which to view proceedings. Elected officials and speakers mostly presented from the Branch headquarters on Elizabeth Street.
Speakers and presentations
Premier Daniel Andrews opened proceedings with a state address in which he thanked attendees for their commitment and professionalism during ‘the most challenging time that any of us can remember’ and acknowledged that the challenge is ongoing. This is part of the reason for the $3000 winter retention payments for public sector employees.
The premier also noted that the payments, the surge allowances and many of the decisions his government has made have been due to the advocacy of the ANMF and its members. ‘We know and understand that if the ANMF is asking for something, then that’s exactly the thing we should get on and do.’
He singled out ratios as one example: ‘The project around ratios is by no means over. There are things we have to do. There are commitments that we’ve made, and I want to assure you that they will be honoured, each and every one of them. This pandemic may have affected the timeline; this pandemic may mean that we have to work even harder together to make sure that we can not only reinstate, but also improve those ratios. I acknowledge that they’re not operating everywhere that they ought to be right now. I want to see us back to a fully ratioed environment as soon as we possibly can.’
Other speakers who presented across the two days, between the debating of motions, included:
- Acting Chief Health Officer Professor Benjamin Cowie, who gave attendees a virtual update on what the Public Health Unit has learned during its response to the pandemic.
- Jaswinder Singh from Sikh Volunteers Australia, who provided background on the Sikh community’s work as well as insights for healthcare workers who care for Sikh patients and how to be culturally respectful.
- Former tennis great Jelena Dokic, speaking on personal trauma, family violence and personal growth.
- Julian Gardner AM, Chair of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Implementation Taskforce, who reported on what’s changed, and what hasn’t, since the implementation of voluntary assisted dying laws.
- Dr Elizabeth McLindon, a University of Melbourne researcher, who addressed the conference on the findings from her research into family violence against Victorian nurses, midwives and carers.
- Stephanie Hughes, registered nurse and clinical products advisor from South West Healthcare, who presented on her successes replacing South West healthcare’s single-use plastic products with compostable alternatives.
Branch Assistant Secretary Madeleine Harradence interviewed former registered undergraduate student of nursing (RUSON) Robyn Dutli, now in her grad year, and current registered undergraduate student of midwifery (RUSOM) Dioni Wilson about the benefits of the RUSON/M student employment model (members can read more from both Robyn and Dioni in the July issue of Handover magazine).
To end on a lighter note, Denise Scott got delegates laughing – no easy feat for a stand-up comedian whose audience wasn’t in the same room let alone the same city.
Delegates and motions
A total of 578 delegates gathered across the 11 venues (or streaming in from their homes), with more than a third – 200, to be exact – of those attending their first Delegates Conference.
The technology utilised for the 2021 virtual conference was again used to connect attendees at all 11 venues, as well as those attending virtually. Voting on motions put forward by delegates occurred via the VERO digital platform, and for the most part it was a smooth process.
A total of 69 motions were included in the agenda to be debated and voted on (with two motions ultimately withdrawn). This is significantly more than in the previous few years (by way of comparison, there were 28 last year and 40 in 2019), which ultimately meant proceedings took a little longer than planned for – in no small part due to some healthy debate on quite a few of the motions.
The motions covered issues from the industrial, health and safety and professional areas, to more general topics such as requesting the Branch lobby the Federal Government to expand Medicare for dental services, or to acknowledge the importance of the Uluru Statement from the Heart and the call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice to be enshrined in the Australian Constitution.
Unsurprisingly, several of the motions were informed by the experiences of nurses, midwives and carers over the past couple of years.
Among the industrial motions that passed were calls for the Branch to negotiate for increased compulsory employer superannuation, an increased annual leave entitlement, and a wage increase greater than 3 per cent in the next public sector EBA log of claims. Professional motions included requests that we lobby for amendments to the Safe Patient Care Act, or for the reintroduction of the standalone Bachelor of Midwifery course at those universities that previously offered it.
All but three of the motions passed, several unanimously.