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  • Nurses and midwives vow to safeguard penalty rates

    Author: Karen Keast

Public sector surgical nurse Ellen McRae works most Sundays.

In fact, Ms McRae works 10 shifts a fortnight and all fall outside the traditional 9am-5.30pm working day, with starts at either 7am, 1pm or 9pm.

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“Three weekends ago it was my first full weekend off in nine weeks - it’s exhausting having to take away your time from your loved ones and only having weekdays, which are often split days, off.”

Ms McRae added her voice to Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) concerns at recommendations of the Productivity Commission’s draft report into workplace relations.

The commission proposes retaining Sunday penalty rates for essential services, such as nurses, midwives and paramedics, while reducing Sunday rates to Saturday rates for workers in hospitality, entertainment and retail.


ANMF federal secretary Lee Thomas said the proposal would create a two-tiered workplace relations system.

“What we say to that is, you can mark my words, this is the beginning of the end - it’s hospitality and retail workers today and tomorrow it will be nurses and midwives. It’s a slippery slope,” she said.

“We’ve already seen in one state, an industry peak in aged care delay bargaining awaiting the outcome of this report, because clearly in aged care they are considering what they do with penalty rates into the future.

“We will continue to campaign alongside hospitality and retail workers because we can’t have a two-tiered penalty rates system in this country.

“A Sunday is a Sunday, no matter whether you are a hospitality worker or a nurse. Touch one of us, you touch us all.”

The draft report, Australia’s Workplace Relations Framework, recommends the change to the Sunday rate would be “a floor to the penalty rate, and employers may decide to pay more if they find it hard to attract employees on Sundays”.

It states penalty rates, except for Sunday rates, should remain - “penalty rates have a legitimate role in compensating employees for working long hours or at unsociable times. They should be maintained”.

The report recommends a restructure of the Fair Work Commission and proposes employees be able to swap public holidays with other days that suit them.

NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) general secretary Brett Holmes said the report’s proposal to tamper with minimum wage indexation was “particularly worrying” for assistants in nursing (AINs) working in the aged care sector.

“Some of our AINs are paid only the minimum wage and rely on these increases to help them make ends meet as costs of living continue to rise. It would be extremely devastating to AINs if minimum wage growth was frozen.”

Ms McRae fears the attack on Sunday rates is just the beginning of a larger attack on the industrial relations system, including a move to abolish penalty rates.

“I love my job and every day I’m at work I do endeavour to care for my patients to the best of my ability but if I was to not get the financial gain from that (penalty rates), I’d find that I’d become quite stressed.”


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Karen Keast

Karen Keast is a freelance health journalist who writes news and feature articles for HealthTimes.

Karen regularly writes for some of Australia’s leading health news websites and magazines.  In a media career spanning 20 years, Karen has worked as a senior journalist in newspapers and television. She has covered the grind of daily news and worked as a politics reporter at countless state and federal elections.

Since venturing into freelance writing five years ago, Karen has found her niche in writing about the health sector for editors, businesses and corporations.

Karen has interviewed the heads of peak health organisations in Australia and overseas, and written hundreds of news and feature articles covering the dedicated work of health professionals who tread the corridors of hospitals and health services, universities, aged care facilities and practices, day in and day out.

Follow Karen Keast on Twitter @stylemywords