The Guardian July 28, 1999


Victorian hospital dispute still on the boil

by Rohan Gowland

The hospital dispute in Victoria continues to boil, with only minor 
progress being made and the Government not giving an inch in discussions 
with three health unions in three separate disputes over pay and conditions 
at major public hospitals. Bans, strikes and other industrial action 
continue as The Guardian goes to press.

The trouble started three weeks ago, after three enterprise agreements 
expired and has been raging ever since. The turmoil is a reflection of the 
underfunding of the public health system, where no additional money is 
being made available for staff or to improve services.

The Government's belt tightening is strangling the public system.

Secretary of the Health and Community Services Union (Health Services Union 
No 2 Branch), Kaye Darveniza, told The Guardian that the union's 
campaign of industrial action was escalating and there are plans for 24-
hour strike action.

The union represents health workers in intellectual disability services, 
about 3,000 of which are involved in the dispute.

"We will continue with our industrial campaign and intensifying our 
campaign until such time as we get an agreement", said Ms Darveniza.

The union's claim is for a 14 per cent pay rise and the Government has 
offered three per cent over two years. But pay is not the main issue for 
them. Resources have been taken away and staffing has been reduced by a 
third under the Kennett Government.

The union wants these resources to be restored and staffing levels improved 
so that staff are better able to develop programs and activities to assist 
their clients.

There is rising casualisation and the Government is pushing individual 
contracts. The union wants all workers to have accredited training and job 
security.

"We will not have an agreement with AWAs [individual contracts]. We are 
willing to negotiate on wages, but we won't accept an agreement with AWAs", 
said Ms Darveniza.

Some progress, of sorts, was made last week by the Australian Health 
Professionals Association (AHPA). The stalemate situation was resolved with 
the AHPA (Health Services Union No 3 Branch), employers and the Government 
agreeing to proceed to arbitration.

The union has lifted all work bans and mass meetings this week are expected 
to endorse arbitration.

The AHPA had been seeking a wage increase in line with that recently 
achieved by nurses.

The AHPA said, "It is important to note that while there appeared to be 
some movement by the Government on the issue of wages, the 8 per cent wage 
offer was payable over a 32 month period, in effect still an annualised 
increase of 3 per cent per annum in line with Government policy.

"Thus the Government did not in fact move from its original offer of 9 per 
cent over 3 years. The only concession made was in relation to the 
professional development allowance which amounts to less than $10 per week 
for health professionals.

"Further, the employers refused to agree to any other substantive items in 
our claim, i.e. job security, staffing levels, classification structure, 
allowances", said the union.

HSUA No 1 Branch, covering catering and cleaning staff in major hospitals, 
have also run up against the Government's unwillingness to negotiate. They 
are looking at escalating their bans with the threat of 24-hour strikes.

Austin & Repat

A separate dispute over the Austin and Repatriation Medical Centre's 
privatisation, and involving ten unions, is expected to escalate.

The unions there are seeking to maintain wages and conditions after 
privatisation (including compensation for money lost through the transfer 
of superannuation funds from the public to the private sector).

Negotiations broke down over the weekend, work bans are continuing and 
workers are meeting today, Wednesday, to plan further action.

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