A year ago today ANF (Vic. branch) launched balloting for protected action – through Australian Electoral Commission processes, and what’s believed to be
Victoria’s largest and most complex protected action secret ballot“, Victorian nurses and midwives began voting on whether or not we would consider a range of industrial action options.

As has been standard in ANF EBA campaigns as long as I’ve been involved, the heart of planned action was bed closures – though usual practice is to begin with closing one in four beds, then escalate if necessary, the ballot began with a one-in-three aim; as is usual,exempted areas (included pediatric, neonatal and maternity beds, the whole of the Royal Children’s Hospital, Peter McCallum and haematology/oncology beds, haemodialysis chairs and urgent cases). Other clauses included being able to wear and distribute campaign material and clothing, and a raft of documentation restrictions for community health and nurses (for the ballot itself, see here).

The significance of protected action is that there can be no consequences for members for taking action that falls within the scope of the protection. For example, talking with members of the press can, under normal circumstances, be cause for disciplinary action or potential job loss; under the protection nurses and midwives were free to write to the press and be interviewed.

The introduction of FairWork legislation, which replaced the previous WorkChoices industrial relations Act, means taking industrial action that is not protected opens the door to EBA negotiations under FairWork governance that restricts the scope – the key elements for nurses and midwives (nurse/midwife: patient ratios, skill mix, and shift lengths) are not included in that scope. This limitation played a key role in campaign tactics for both sides, as I’ll discuss in a fortnight.