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.