Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Red News Readers,

At last some information about what is happening with the nurses wage claim.

Jenny Haines

Public sector unions watch rail vote for wages guide


August 11, 2010

REPRESENTATIVES of the state's rail workers will vote today to either end their bitter industrial dispute with the state government or fight on with a possible strike on the eve of the federal election.

The workers have been offered a wage increase of just under 3.5 per cent a year over the next four years, less than the 5 per cent sought by their unions.

In return, the government and RailCorp have backed down on planned redundancies among train guards and security staff, though it is understood they continue to demand increased productivity. This is in keeping with the government's policy of keeping public sector wage increases capped at 2.5 per cent unless ''productivity gains'' can be made elsewhere.

Other public sector unions preparing for wage negotiations are watching the rail deal with interest, including the NSW Nurses Federation, which is seeking a 5 per cent annual increase over four years. It has rejected a productivity deal, saying its members are already so stretched ''there is nothing else to give''.

Rail chaos was averted when a tentative wage deal was reached early yesterday.

But strike plans still exist in the event about 400 union delegates at Trades Hall vote the proposal down. They include a 24-hour strike on the day before the federal election - an action that could seriously harm Labor's chances, particularly in crucial seats in western Sydney.

The NSW secretary of the Rail, Tram and Bus Union, Alex Claassens, denied he was using the federal poll as political leverage to pressure the government.

''That's certainly not my intention,'' he said. ''I am hopeful that, even if the proposal doesn't get up, there will be an agreement reached before we have to take that action.''

Regardless of the outcome today, the rail deal raises questions about the state government's ability to keep its promise to stay under the 2.5 per cent cap.

In its 2010-11 budget, the government promised to keep expenses growth to 4.7 per cent a year - even though expenses had grown at 6.6 per cent for each of the four previous years.

Public sector employee costs - mainly wages - account for 43 per cent of the total expenses bill.

The pressure is now well and truly on, with unions unwilling, and in some cases unable, to find productivity gains to offset their desired wages increases.

The acting secretary of the nurses union, Judith Kiejda, said the association rejected the government's requirement that any rises over 2.5 per cent be offset by ''efficiency measures''.

''We believe we have put productivity savings into the system and that there is nothing else to give - that's how our membership are feeling,'' Ms Kiejda said.

The union is also seeking to have minimum nurse-to-patient ratios mandated under the award, which would force hospital managers to fill vacancies or close a ward.

Hospital managers would have to fill vacancies, including those created when staff take sick, parental or holiday leave, lessening the reliance on overtime and casual agency staff. Only a nurse or midwife of the same qualification would be permitted.