Senior nurses take strike action in New South Wales

Royal Adelaide Hospital caterers, cleaners and support assistants are on strike for better working conditions

SENIOR nurses in New South Wales, Australia, took two hours of strike action on Monday, saying that chronic staff shortages have pushed them to breaking point and warning that some members are working 22 hours straight through!

Senior nursing staff across western New South Wales walked off the job in protest at the chronic staffing shortages affecting the sector.
Key points:

  • The NSW nurses’ union says 430 nursing shifts remain unfilled at multi-purpose services across western NSW
  • The union says health centres in Blayney, Bourke, Cobar, Parkes, Peak Hill, Molong and Warren face chronic staff shortages
  • Senior nursing staff walked off the job over patient safety concerns

Nursing staff from across 13 health centres in the Western NSW Local Health District (LHD) stopped work for two hours on Monday.
Some managerial staff in the region’s hospitals fear for patient safety because of chronic understaffing and staff exhaustion.
The Western NSW Nurse Managers branch secretary Kathleen Hillier said some staff in the LHD worked unimaginable hours to cover shifts.
‘You’ve got a nurse that works 22 hours giving out medications, they’re tired, anything could happen,’ Hillier said.
‘We’re really concerned not only about our staff and their welfare but we’re also concerned about the safety of our patients as well,’ she said. ‘We’re just at our wit’s end.’
Monday was the first time she recalls senior nursing staff in the state taking such drastic measures to ask for help. About a quarter of the nurse managers employed across the LHD joined in.
Brett Holmes, general secretary of the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association said there were reports that some senior nurses had worked up to 18 days without a break.
‘This is certainly putting patients and staff at risk,’ Holmes said.
‘This is historic, where a group of nurse managers have had to take this drastic action.’
He said the LHD has not recruited an adequate number of nurses to fill the gaps.
The NSW Nurses and Midwives Association said that across January there are 140 vacant nursing shifts at the Lightning Ridge multi-purpose service (MPS).
The union said both Nyngan and Warren MPS are facing a shortfall of 90 shifts each.
And at Trundle and Tottenham there were about 30 gaps in the rosters over the same period.
Rural and remote hospitals have been in the spotlight this year, with a NSW Parliamentary Inquiry examining healthcare in regional areas.
Public hearings have been told of situations where patients have waited hours for blood transfusions, and a time where a daughter allegedly watched her father die on a bathroom floor.
Short staffing has seen telehealth and virtual care increasingly used in the Western Local Health District.
The inquiry heard four people died in Central West NSW hospitals without a doctor on-site between 2016 and 2020.
The NSW opposition’s health spokesman Ryan Park said the strike proved the rural and regional system is ‘in crisis’.
‘I’m very concerned, nurses don’t take this sort of action lightly,’ he said.
‘They keep people safe, they make sure we get the treatment we need and deserve when we are in hospital. They can’t do that if there is insufficient resources to keep people safe and get the treatment they need.’
Union members have pleaded with the NSW government to introduce statewide nurse-to-patient ratios for every shift.
It would mean at least three nurses were working at any given time in every rural and remote centre.
General Secretary of the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association Brett Holmes wants the NSW government to take urgent action.
Holmes said that without urgent intervention many communities face the prospect of having ‘totally inadequate’ health services.
‘Many nurses come to these services and find that they’re left alone with only one other staff to try to manage both aged care residents and the emergency department, and it burns them out,’ he said.
‘There are no incentives to come and work in many parts of western NSW. There are so many disincentives.’

  • Hundreds of health care workers walked-off the job at two major Adelaide hospitals last Tuesday, requesting safer, more secure jobs from the state government.

Cleaners, caterers and support assistants came together from both the Royal Adelaide and Queen Elizabeth hospitals, calling for better working conditions.
The walkout began at 1:30pm on Tuesday afternoon as major complaints were raised by the United Workers Union, in particular the dissatisfaction to do with ‘patient care’ amid government uncertainty.
Other reasons outlined by the union include at-risk aged-care residents being left to feed themselves, the improper handling of medicines by those not medically qualified, and patient transfers into the hospital.
Earlier this month, workers at Flinders Medical Centre, the Repatriation General Hospital and the Noarlunga Hospital conducted a walkout due to similar risks for both patients and staffers.
‘Understaffing issues raised by our members highlight the impact of SA’s (South Australia’s) health crisis, and our members are simply not going to take it anymore,’ public sector co-ordinator Paul Blackmore said.
‘Hospital cleaners, catering staff, sterilisation technicians and patient services assistants are calling on the government to give them safe, secure jobs but the government is treating them with contempt.’
Meanwhile dozens of guards at Mount Gambier Prison walked off the site last Wednesday as industrial action is escalated by union members.
• Prison staff say they are not happy about having to eat food prepared by inmates amid potential contamination fears

  • Mount Gambier Prison houses more than 650 inmates and is one of the largest in South Australia

• Union says prison should also have dedicated infirmary with nurses on every shift.
The mass walk-out of prison guards leaves a skeleton crew at one of South Australia’s largest prisons.
The United Workers Union campaign marks the third time guards have participated in an industrial action at the privately-operated facility.
According to union officials, G4S management continues to ‘ignore serious safety issues’ raised by the workforce centred around chronic understaffing.
Union organiser Darren Roberts said staff harbour concerns about the risks associated with eating food prepared by inmates.
He said not all prison staff are able to take a meal away from their workstation.
While it would be difficult to target a particular staff member with an ‘nefarious action,’ Roberts said certain food parcels were just for prison staff.
‘Our first option is to eliminate the risk rather than no one’s got crook yet, so what’s the problem?’ Roberts said.
‘Or the other comment that was made – if you don’t like it, don’t eat it. These people, the prison staff, don’t have the ability to leave site. So once they go in the morning, they’re there for 12.66 hours a day.’
Union spokesperson Louise Dillon said correctional officers and support staff are frustrated that G4S is not taking their concerns seriously.
She said the majority of the 100 guards at the site took part in the strike action.
‘With the current short staffing, correctional officers have become default healthcare workers at the prison, for instance they are currently transporting prisoners to hospital, which is taking them away from their core duties,’ Dillon said.
‘We believe that a prison that houses more than 650 prisoners should have an infirmary with suitably qualified medical staff, like nurses on every shift.’
She said outstanding claims include adequate staffing levels to be contained within the agreement, supervisors’ current conditions to be recognised, reasonable meal provisions, and a modest wage increase.
‘G4S throughout the negotiations has failed in many areas, its greatest failure is to not recognise the solidarity and support the membership have with one another,’ Dillon said.
Elsewhere, rail workers took industrial action again last Monday, December 14, in pursuit of their claim for a pay rise, against privatisation and for safety guarantees on the new rail fleet.
Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) NSW secretary Alex Claassens said on December 13: ‘The union took action because the government has, for months, been refusing to negotiate on guarantees on hygiene, safety and privatisation.’
The union also wants a pay rise for all members.