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Pay rise secured for public sector mental health nurses

Pay rise secured for public sector mental health nurses

Public sector mental health nurse members have won a 10.5 per cent wage increase, achieving pay parity with general public sector nurses and midwives.

Members endorsed an improved Andrews Government offer at a statewide meeting on 11 October.

ANMF, the Health and Community Services Union and the Victorian Hospitals’ Industrial Association have all reached agreement on the improved offer and are working to finalise the draft enterprise agreement by 30 November.

The proposed Mental Health Enterprise Agreement 2020–24 wage increase includes a one-off ‘nurse alignment’ payment to catch up the general public sector.

The proposed wage increases are as follows:

  • 1 July 2021 – 3% (the effect of the alignment payment is as if this increase applied from 1 December 2020)
  • 1 July 2022 – 3%
  • 1 July 2023 – 3%
  • 1 July 2024 – 1.5%

The agreement also includes provision for 800 new full time equivalent (FTE) mental health staff over the life of the agreement, as well as up to $3 million in funding for additional nursing FTE staffing at secure extended care units and aged psychiatry services.

Other inclusions focus on:

  • recognising the advanced diploma in mental health as a relevant qualification for enrolled nurses to access a four per cent qualification allowance
  • Improved paid primary parental leave to 14 weeks
  • Implementation of a Graduate Support Nurse trial between metropolitan and regional Victoria
  • implementing minimum staffing levels for bed-based services
  • ensuring nurse-for-nurse replacement in community mental health teams
  • implementing a new crisis team workload management system (CTWMS)
  • allowing up to 20 days of paid gender affirmation leave, and compassionate leave provisions for loss of pregnancy under 20 weeks gestation.

In addition to the above, the agreement also includes all the significant wins from the general public sector nurses and midwives enterprise agreement such as superannuation on both paid and unpaid components of parental leave, parental leave counting as service for long service leave purposes, earlier access to long service leave and improved access to the sixth week of annual leave for weekend workers.

A long journey

It was a long and at times challenging EBA process. Official negotiations began with a log of claims being presented to employers in May 2020. Around the table – virtual and actual – with ANMF (Vic Branch) were the Victorian Hospitals’ Industrial Association (VHIA), the Health and Community Services Union (HACSU), and the Department of Health and Human Services.

By August 2020, former Fair Work Commissioner David Gregory was appointed as mediator to help progress the negotiations, which had stalled when HACSU tried to exclude ANMF from bargaining on the grounds that their claims weren’t relevant to ANMF members. A deadline of October 2020 was set, and passed without resolution.

Weekly and sometimes twice-weekly meetings continued between all parties throughout 2021. Finally, at the ANMF’s virtual statewide meeting on 11 October, mental health members voted overwhelmingly to accept the improved EBA offer, with the other parties following soon after.

With all involved now on board, an in-principle agreement for a new Victorian public sector Mental Health Enterprise Agreement 2020–24 was signed on 19 October 2021. This followed the signing of a Heads of Agreement between ANMF, HACSU and the VHIA.

Next steps

Once the proposed enterprise bargaining agreement is finalised it will be put to a ballot of all eligible public sector mental health employees. If the majority of those who vote support the EBA an application for its approval will be made to the Fair Work Commission. There is no timeframe on the FWC approval process, but once approved the agreement comes into effect seven days later.

ANMF is developing a frequently asked questions document that will be made available to members, along with a further EBA update, prior to the ballot.