Background to the blog

I’ve been a nurse in Victoria’s public health system since I began my hospital-based training in June, 1989, and the system has changed substantially in that time:  registered nurses are now degree-qualified, enrolled nurses can administer medications and have a far broader scope of practice, midwives can enter the profession directly instead of first qualifying as nurses, and patients are magnitudes sicker than ever before.

Most significantly, Victorian acute public sector nurses and midwives were the first in the world to win legally-mandated nurse/midwife: patient ratios. For more about how this came about, and what Victoria’s nurses and midwives have needed to do since 2000 to keep ratios, see the posts 1986-2000: from the Strike to ratios, and 2001-2007: defending the ratios.

The 2011 EBA campaign was never going to be easier than 2007, but I suspect nobody had any idea it would be as protracted and bitter as it became. Negotiations stretched over an unprecedented nine months, ANF produced five radio ads and three television promotions (you can see them, including one in which I feature, here), there was a rally in the city, thirty-five community rallies, eight state-wide member meetings, and the first withdrawal of nursing labour in Victoria since the fifty-day strike of 1986. In the end the ANF won, gaining some 2,500 new members and a whole lot of resolution along the way.

I am disgusted by the behaviour and attitude of the Victorian Premier, Ted Baillieu,  and Health Minister David Davis, and by the Victorian Hospital Industry Association (VHIA), the agency acting in negotiations on their behalf. The Minister signed a Cabinet-in-confidence document on May 5th, 2011, advocating that the government resist negotiations in an attempt to send proceedings into mandatory arbitration – under changes to industrial relations legislation since 2007, that would mean an Agreement under an authority with no jurisdiction over workload, skill mix or hours of work. And that meant the loss of ratios, the introduction of minimally-skilled staff replacing nurses, and shifts as short as four-hours, regardless of patient need. Despite the submission of this document, two months later Minister Davies stood in front of ANF officials and job representatives promising that the government would negotiate fairly in the forthcoming discussions. For months, while saying publicly that they were not trying to weaken or remove ratios, behind closed doors the Baillieu government’s agent was determined ratios would go.

I was increasingly active during the campaign, and the actions of Mr Baillieu since the acute public campaign was effectively concluded in March (at the time of writing our Mental Health nurses are still embroiled in negotiation) have nothing to change my mind – not content with introducing legislation allowing him to take some $120 million a year from WorkCover funds (from employers to pay for employees injured at work), he has violently slashed funding from the Victorian vocational education sector, resulting in massive job losses and the closure of many courses, which will in turn further disadvantage those from poor socio-economic backgrounds, migrants, retrenched workers and women returning to the work force.

In December 2011 I started a count down to the election on the ANF’s Facebook page. Over time the posts became longer and more polemic, and though I’m maintaining a countdown there for as long as the page exists, I think what I want to write will not always be appropriate for that site, nor necessarily of interest to members. I’ve transferred the older posts here, and will continue to update until the next Victorian election, on November 29th 2014. For the most part the earlier posts link the date with significant events in history, politics, health care, the union movement, welfare and/or social justice, while the later ones are generally  contemporaneously topical. I make no apology for the fact that my bias will be toward the interests of nurses, midwives, and the communities we serve. –  June 1 2012

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