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Explaining ‘short shifts’ in the public sector

Explaining ‘short shifts’ in the public sector

Clock image by Sonja Langford

In the years leading up to the negotiation of the 2016–20 public sector enterprise agreement a common member complaint to ANMF was about ‘short shifts’ on inpatient wards and in aged care.

While previous enterprise agreements put limits on short shifts, a quirk in the wording meant the limit only applied to the number of short shifts rostered, not the number actually worked. This resulted in many workplaces rostering the maximum number of short shifts, then routinely replacing vacant shifts with six-hour shifts.

With the making of the new EBA, there are some significant changes around the use of short shifts.

A short shift is usually a shift used to make up the nursing numbers but not for the duration of the full shift, i.e. the shift may start late or finish early. A short shift must be at least six hours duration in addition to a 30 minute meal break.

The new requirements

The EBA’s new and amended restrictions around short shifts are:

  1. No short shifts may be used on night duty.
  2. You must not be rostered to work a short shift unless you agree to it.
  3. The word ‘rostered’ has been replaced with the word ‘used’, meaning the maximum short shifts per ward per day is:
  • one ‘AM’ short shift, starting and finishing within the ‘AM’ shift times
  • one ‘PM’ shift , starting and finishing within the ‘PM’ shift times
  • or one crossover shift, being a shift that starts before midday and concludes during the ‘PM’ shift.

See below for exceptions to this rule for aged care and rehabilitation units.

4. If you have an unexpected vacancy on the roster (for example, someone calls in sick) your employer must use a full shift if a permanent employee is available to work the full shift.

5. In attempting to fill an unplanned vacancy with a full shift, the employer must:
a. contact nurses/midwives who are available, including in accordance with the supplementary roster; and

b. if the shift remains unfilled, ask nurses/midwives on that ward/unit to fill the vacancy (except where it would result in overtime)
c. if the shift is remains unfilled, seek to allocate a permanent pool employee

d. if the employer cannot find a permanent employee to fill the full shift despite the steps at (a) to (c) above, then a bank or agency staff member may be used

e. a nurse bank employee or, as a last resort, an agency staff member, must be used for the full shift, unless the nurse in charge of the ward (and this cannot be overridden by hospital management) determines a short shift will not have a negative impact on patient care, safe staffing and related matters, having regard to all the circumstances on the relevant ward / unit including:

  • patient safety and acuity
  • skill mix
  • the time at which the absence was notified
  • whether the ward / unit is staffing above the ratios under the Safe Patient Care Act 2015
  • the number of short shifts on the ward already
  • the capacity for employees, including casual employees, to attend professional development.

It will be up to members and ANMF to ensure this new process works, and that the nurse in charge of the ward does not get pressured to accept short shifts against their professional judgment. If this occurs, notify ANMF and we will ensure the new system operates as it is intended. Under the new clause, the employer must document its attempts to replace the vacancy, which must be available for inspection by the ANMF upon request.

Exception – aged care and rehabilitation units

Aged care and rehabilitation wards that, as at 31 March 2012, had more than two short shifts per day, may use up to three short shifts per ward or unit in any configuration over the AM and PM shifts.

Exception – workload management proposal

A hospital can put forward a proposal to have more short shifts, however it cannot result in less nursing hours on the ward, and the nursing staff on the ward must agree. Such a proposal requires consultation with ANMF and agreement of affected employees.

If you require more advice contact ANMF via our ‘Member assistance’ inquiry form