It is ten years since ANMF members won their nine-month campaign to stop the Liberal Coalition state government from substituting nurses and midwives with assistants in nursing.
The Napthine/Baillieu Government’s secret plan was revealed in The Age newspaper on 6 November 2011. The Age reported that the cabinet-in-confidence documents, signed by then health minister David Davis, outlined a plan to cut the number of nurses and midwives and replace them with cheaper assistants in nursing. Within four years the government’s annual budget savings would reach $104 million.
In addition to nurse and midwife substitution, the public sector hospital plan also aimed for roster ‘flexibility’ with the introduction of four-hour shifts and split shifts.
At the time The Age reported the government’s game plan was to force the ANMF (then ANF) into arbitration by ‘deliberately frustrating pay negotiations’.
ANMF avoided forced arbitration thanks to a decision by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (now Fair Work Australia) to ‘suspend’ rather than ‘terminate’ members protected industrial action in November 2011.
On 7 March 2012, after 33 community rallies and 14 days of rolling walkouts the parties agreed to resolve all outstanding issues. ANMF (Vic Branch) Secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick announced the truce at The Alfred hospital’s morning walk out and stop work, which quickly became a celebration.
ANMF members ceased their industrial action the following day and voted at a statewide meeting at Festival Hall on 16 March 2012 to accept a new government offer that did not include the substitution of nurses and midwives or roster ‘flexibility’.
Eight-week ‘heath assistant’ substitute pilot stopped
Prior to the Baillieu Coalition government’s election in 2010, then Labor health minister Daniel Andrews had agreed to trial ANMF’s idea for an undergraduate nursing student employment program. The students were to be rostered above the ratios.
After winning the election the Coalition Government dumped the student employment model trial and initiated its preferred trial of ‘health assistants’ at Austin Health. These ‘health assistants’ were to be used as part of ratios replacing nurses and midwives.
On 15 February 2012, The Age newspaper reported on PricewaterhouseCoopers’s trial evaluation report which found the eight-week training program left ‘health assistants’ overwhelmed by the work at times and ‘needed more training in death, dying and traumatic events’.
Another important ANMF members’ win came after the 2014 election when the new Labor health minister, Jill Hennessy, restarted the Registered Undergraduate Student of Nursing (RUSON) pilot.
The program has flourished during the pandemic and expanded to Registered Undergraduate Students of Midwifery (RUSOMs) and the Pre-Qualified Nurse Employment Program in mental health services. Their contribution to the pandemic healthcare workforce cannot be overstated.
Respect our Work campaign gallery
In the longest campaign of the ANMF’s more than 100-year history, members rallied, took protected and unprotected industrial action and had their pay docked as a consequence, door knocked an entire marginal seat and wrote resignation letters in the event nurse/ midwife substitution was introduced.
Ten years on we remember the extraordinary courage, stamina and determination of thousands of ANMF members who secured the 2011-12 ‘Respect our Work’ EBA victory.
The ingredients for a campaign
- 1 broken Coalition election commitment to “maintaining nurse patient ratios in their current format an as supporting in current agreements”
- 1 secret document outlining the Liberal Coalition government’s plan to slash nurses
- 9 months of negotiations
- 128 days of Fair Work Australia conciliation
- 8 statewide meetings
- 14 days of industrial action involving bed closures (12 November 2011 to 25 November 2011)
- 700 hospital beds closed during the peak of the nurses’ industrial action in November
- 1516 hospital beds closed by the Baillieu Government (between 23 December 2011 and 25 January 2012)
- 3452 nurses, midwives and mental health nurses signed resignation authorities
- 100 hospital meetings to discuss resignations
- 10,000 protesters at the march to save nurse/midwife ratios from Bourke Street to Spring Street (Thursday 24 November 2011)
- 35 community rallies
- 20,000 sausages barbecued at the community rallies
- 15 hospitals involved in rolling stoppages over 14 days (24 February and 7 March 2012). As well as 4 hospitals involved in impromptu stoppages
- 18 Victorian unions supported and attended with members at the walkouts every day
- 2000 nurses and midwives involved in stoppages each day during the industrial action
- Nurses and midwives having their pay docked
- 110,000 signatures on the petition to Premier Baillieu to save, improve and legislate nurse/midwife ratios
- 29,500 people signed the change.org online petition to Premier Baillieu
- 19,000 homes in the Bentleigh electorate doorknocked
- 11,381 people talking on the Respect Our Work Facebook page
- 15,000 people liked the Respect Our Work Facebook page
- 1 unsuccessful attempt by government lawyers to gag ANMF members organising industrial action on Facebook
- Mobile and static outdoor billboards
- 5 ANF television commercials
- 3 ANF radio commercials
- 70,000 Respect Our Work t-shirts
- 11,000 Respect Our Work pens
- 5000 Respect Our Work bandanas
- 2000 Respect Our Work stubbie holders
- 25,000 Respect Our Work car flags
- 18,000 Respect Our Work bin stickers
- 100,000 Respect Our Work ribbons
- 2500 new ANF (Victorian Branch) members since November 2011 and 7 March 2012
- 1000 new nurse and midwife activists
- 1 “inelegant gesture” – former premier Ted Baillieu’s second cousin Marshall Baillieu showed protesting nurses his middle finger
- 1 Walkley Award – photographer Justin McManus was named Walkley Press Photographer of the Year in 2012. He received the award for his photo of Marshall Baillieu disrespecting nurses. Justin received a received a standing ovation when arrived to cover an ANMF public sector members statewide meeting in 2016. Justin has said it is his favourite photo.