Thousands of New South Wales nurses have vowed to go ahead with the first strike in almost a decade on Tuesday, after the government and health department sought to have the industrial action quashed at the last minute.
The NSW government and NSW Health had talks with the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association on Monday afternoon, after nurses voted to walk off the job in more than 150 hospitals.
The government sought help from the Industrial Relations Commission, who ordered the union to “immediately cease organising” and “refrain” from striking on Tuesday, with an order that extends to March 14.
A spokesperson for NSW Health said a strike would “cause disruptions and delays to health services”.
Brett Holmes, general secretary of the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association, said the union would not take the IRC direction and the strike would go ahead.
He said the orders and directions were placed against the union “late this afternoon” and it was “in the process of informing our members”.
“The NSWNMA Council supports the decision of our branches to take industrial action statewide,” he said.
“The strike and rallies will go ahead, as we are unable to comply with the orders.”
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard met the union on Monday, in what Mr Holmes said amounted to an “agreement to talk” without “concrete” commitments from the government.
“There was nothing to us in concrete terms around improved wages,” Mr Holmes said.
“Neither was there any concession about the current government’s moves to remove some of the protections … with regard to workers being exposed to COVID-19.”
He said Mr Hazzard indicated he “won’t talk” about establishing patient-to-staff ratios in hospitals.
The union has a clear set of demands, including nurse to patient ratios in every hospital, a withdrawal of a section in the Workers’ Compensation Act requiring workers to prove they caught COVID-19 at work, and a pay rise of more than 2.5 per cent.
Tuesday’s strike will affect 150 public hospitals when nurses strike from 7am.
The timing and length of the action will vary from hospital to hospital and skeleton staff will remain at work to ensure patient care.
NSW paramedics will join the strike on Thursday, after members of the Australian Paramedics Association voted almost unanimously to take part in the industrial action and implement a 24-hour statewide ban on staff movement.
Staff movement is the practice of relocating staff from their station to fill ‘roster gaps’ nearby.
The union says staff movements are routinely used by NSW Ambulance to cut costs and avoid adequately staffing stations.
“Paramedics are exhausted, frustrated, and burnt out,” APA NSW President Chris Kastelan said on Monday.
The union has been calling for more resources – including 1500 more paramedics – as the health system strains under the burden of the two-year pandemic.
“This government will happily pay lip service to thanking frontline workers, but when push comes to shove they aren’t prepared to properly support us, or pay us what we’re worth,” he said.
On Monday NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet praised health workers and said talks between the union and the government were ongoing.
“Our health workers have worked tirelessly over two years. Many are exhausted. They have done an amazing job providing love, care and support for the people of our great state over two long years,” Mr Perrottet said.
“There’s a number of issues that need to be resolved. There are a number of issues that are up for discussion and the Health Minister continues to work through that and continues to keep me advised on how those issues are progressing.”
NSW opposition leader Chris Minns said the likely loss of a seat for the government at Saturday’s by-elections was a message the premier “needed to listen to frontline health workers”.
“He’s not having meaningful dialogue and communication with the people who have been the heroes of the pandemic,” Mr Minns said.