Main Content

Real nursing and midwifery unions are political

Real nursing and midwifery unions are political

Paul Gilbert

ANMF is unashamedly political. We have to be, to maximise the influence of our members and deliver solutions.

You can’t win pay rises, improved working conditions or better staffing levels without the union and union members being political.

Anyone claiming they’re not political has no ability, capacity or intention to effect change.

Being political means interacting with the political system and politicians. It’s how you influence government budgets, legislation, regulations and political decisions which all determine nurses’, midwives’ and carers’ ability to provide high-quality patient, resident and client care.

It means meetings and discussions with politicians, bureaucrats and public and private health and aged care service employers.

It can mean taking industrial action.

It means campaigning, marching in the streets, signing a petition, writing emails and letters, painting a message on a placard, writing a letter to the editor or calling talkback radio. It means participating after work and on your days off when you would rather be at home with your loved ones and friends.

It means turning up to a rally wearing ANMF’s iconic red T-shirt or putting an ANMF bumper sticker on your car.

It takes hard work and courage. And when you consider the length of some of our campaigns ─ it takes a hell of a lot of patience and strategy.

The political activity of thousands of ANMF members, elected leaders and union staff has resulted in hard-won improvements to the working lives of Victoria’s nurses, midwives and personal care workers and the patients, residents and clients in their care. Here’s just a few examples…

Being political won ratios

ANMF members were the first in the world to achieve mandated nurse/midwife ratios 23 years ago. To some members it seems like ancient history – I get it – but it’s still important today. Victoria’s mandated minimum staffing – shift by shift – was the result of members’ political campaigning and industrial action. Prior to the year 2000, staffing was subject to management whim and the hospital budget.

ANMF members ‘being political’ stopped the Brumby and Bracks Labor state government attempts to remove ratios in 2001, 2004 and 2007. Members never backed down when the Baillieu/ Napthine Liberal state government attempted to replace nurses and midwives with nursing assistants in 2011-12.

The union and its members were political again when we secured the Andrews Labor opposition’s 2014 election commitment to remove ratios from the public sector EBA and enshrine them in legislation. This became the Safe Patient Care Act 2015.

Being political won improved and new ratios

More recently ANMF lobbied the Andrews Government for ratio improvements based on Job Reps’ resolutions passed at the union’s annual delegates conferences. These improved and new ratios were included in amendments to the Safe Patient Care Act between 2019 and 2023. We secured 2022 Andrews Government election commitments for further ratio improvements to postnatal and antenatal wards, level 1 hospital ED resuscitation bays, ICUs and stand-alone high-dependency units and coronary care units.

All of it – politics.

Being political won an historic aged care pay rise and care minutes

July’s historic private aged care pay rises and the introduction of 24/7 registered nurses and minimum care minutes are all the fruits of political campaigning by ANMF and our members.

The Howard Government made a political decision to re-write the aged care legislation in 1997 removing funding requirements linked to having nurses in nursing home. As a diabolical consequence aged care providers saved money by reducing the number of registered nurses they employed to care for residents. ANMF and its members never gave up and for 25 years we all campaigned for minimum nurse/resident ratios.

For almost the same length of time ANMF members campaigned to address the pay inequality between private aged care nurses and public and private hospital nurses that evolved following the Labor Hawke/ Keating Labor government’s introduction of enterprise bargaining.

Thousands of members took a political stand. They attended protests, signed petitions, organised meetings with politicians and appeared in ANMFs television and radio campaign commercials. They had conversations with residents, family, the community and the media. Bupa members took protected industrial action, including walk outs.

After multiple governments ignored more than 20 aged care inquiries and reports we finally got a royal commission. Federal and state ANMF elected officials, staff and members appeared as witnesses at that royal commission. ANMF made multiple written submissions.

The royal commission recommended the introduction of a registered nurse 24/7 on site in all aged care facilities. This came into effect in July and largely affects states and territories outside Victoria due to the staffing requirement’s inclusion in most EBAs in our state.

To further address staffing levels, the royal commission also recommended a minimum 215 care minutes (44 minutes by a registered nurse) per resident per day by October 2024, with the first stage of 200 minutes (40 minutes by an RN) being introduced this coming October (it was supposed to be October 2022 but its implementation was delayed by the Morrison Coalition government).

We still needed a government that would act on the recommendations with urgency. Through ANMF’s political lobbying members secured 2022 election commitments from the then Albanese opposition to implement the recommendations. ANMF continues to meet with the Albanese Government to ensure enrolled nurses are a valued component of those minimum care minutes.

To address low wages in private aged care the royal commission recommended the unions work with the government on a work value case. ANMF began a case in the Fair Work Commission with the assistance of the state branches including Victoria. Elected officials and brave ANMF members appeared as witnesses. Again, through our political lobbying efforts, members secured a further election commitment to fully fund the outcome of the case.

The FWC’s interim 15 per cent decision on award wages came into effect last month. ANMF’s political advocacy ensured that all nurses and carers received a wage rise including a dollar equivalent rise for those already on higher EBA rates above the award. The work value case continues and a further pay rise decision is expected next year.

ANMF is currently preparing a political campaign on behalf of members to shame recalcitrant employers who don’t think they need to pass on some or all of the Albanese Government’s wages funding to their staff.

Being political benefits private acute members

Private acute sector ANMF members also participate in political campaigning. Historically they’ve attended large public sector EBA campaign rallies and they stood beside their colleagues in 2012 when we walked out of hospitals trying to stop the Baillieu/ Napthine Liberal governments replacing nurses with health assistants.

The public sector wages and conditions secured by these campaigns benefits private acute members.

The public sector nurses and midwives enterprise agreement is used as the benchmark to negotiate private acute agreements. The most recent round of private acute agreements has achieved pay parity and in some cases wages will be higher depending on timing of scheduled pay rises. Members also achieved public sector benefits such as increased parental leave, superannuation on paid parental leave for many, paid partner parental leave, paid family violence leave, professional development leave and senior nursing and midwifery positions.

While there are workload clauses in place of ratios, private acute nurses and midwives will have an opportunity to make decisions about campaigning and industrial action in their next round of bargaining. The political landscape means we now have more bargaining options, if members decide on that path of action, ANMF stands with them every step of the way.

Would you like higher wages or more staff?

‘Would you like higher wages or more staff on shift?’ – no one said ever to a nurse or a midwife.

If we can achieve change through measured political discussions – we’ll always try that first. ANMF members and their union will never shy away from politics. How else could we continue to improve the nursing and midwifery professions, the health and aged care systems and our ability to provide save patient, resident and client care.