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Explaining: What is an EBA?

Explaining: What is an EBA?

EBA #5 2011-12 ‘Respect our work’ - defending ratios again at a 10,000-strong rally in Melbourne CBD.

Your wages, conditions, allowances and entitlements

Your enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) is one of the most important documents of your working life.

It is an agreement, between the employer and employees, outlining your wages, working conditions, career structure, allowances and entitlements.  EBAs operate with the full force of the law. They are legally enforceable and if not followed by employers the court can order significant penalties against them.

EBAs are usually negotiated by unions representing their members with employers and/or their representatives.

There are 250 agreements covering Victorian ANMF members, who are nurses, midwives and private aged care personal care workers. These EBAs, covering many workplaces, generally expire after three or four years.

The enterprise bargaining process was introduced by the Hawke/Keating Labor Government in the early 1990s. It replaced the primacy of national wage cases and industrial awards which outlined the wages and conditions for groups of workers. The purpose and intention of enterprise bargaining was to achieve higher wages and better conditions than the awards provided.

Before enterprise bargaining most Victorian nurses and midwives were paid the same wage rates regardless of their employer.

Enterprise bargaining has been an imperfect system and has not benefited nurses, midwives and personal care workers to the same extent.

The rules, outlined in the Fair Work Act, only allow an enterprise agreement to cover one employer. This restriction has often left nurses, midwives and carers in smaller workplaces, where members have less bargaining power due to smaller numbers, with lower wages and fewer conditions.

Nurses and midwives in larger workplaces and with more bargaining power, such as the public sector, have more ability to take the kind of industrial action than can put pressure on an employer to improve their offer. This explains why there is a wage gap between public and private hospital nurses and private aged care nurses.

The broken enterprise bargaining law was a key reason ANMF members supported the ACTU’s ‘Change the Rules’ campaign in the lead up to the 2018 federal election.

ANMF negotiated the first Victorian public sector nurses and midwives EBA in 1997. At the time of publication ANMF was negotiating the seventh public sector EBA. The agreement covers about 60,000 nurses and midwives. Their strength in numbers and ability to take significant industrial action, such as closing beds and cancelling elective surgery, means they have achieved important improvements to conditions, wages and workloads over two decades.

ANMF uses the public sector nurses and midwives EBA as the benchmark agreement for its negotiations in all other workplaces. This is why the wages, allowances and many of the conditions are also in the public sector mental health nurses agreement and private acute nurses and midwives agreements.

Negotiations for smaller workplaces then follow. These include private and not-for-profit residential aged care facilities, bush nursing hospitals, local governments, palliative care, dialysis, endoscopy, radiology, pathology, GP and IVF clinics.

As already mentioned, it is more difficult for nurses, midwives and personal care workers to take industrial action in smaller or fragmented workplaces. But not impossible.

2016 Bupa nurses and carers rally outside Bupa’s head office

2016 Bupa nurses and carers rally outside Bupa’s head office

Bupa members’ 37-day industrial campaign, including rolling strikes, in 2017 remains unprecedented in the Australian aged care sector. Aged care nurses’ and personal care workers’ action led to Bupa improving its offer from a 2.1 per cent wage increase and no other changes in a one-year agreement to 11.25 per cent over three years, plus backpay, improved entitlements and improved workload management processes.

Bupa members did not achieve the nurse/carer to resident ratios they wanted. To achieve ratios in private and not-for-profit residential aged care, it will have to be a recommendation of the aged care royal commission. However, the Bupa member’s action is evidence that the level of ANMF member engagement in their EBA campaign has a major impact on the outcome.