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Nurses celebrated but union still calling out for support

Nurses of all kinds, including those working in aged care, are being celebrated for International Nurses Day today.

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International Nurses Day is being used to call for more support for nurses in health and aged care, following strike action taken by aged care workers earlier this week. [Source: United Workers Union]

But the May 12 celebration of the work that nurses do, held on the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth, is also being used to advocate for sector-wide change to future-proof the workforce and patient, or resident, care.

The international theme this year is Nurses: A Voice to Lead - Invest in Nursing and respect rights to secure global health.

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Foundation (ANMF), union for nurses and midwives, is both celebrating and advocating for members in line with the theme of the day.

ANMF Federal Secretary, Annie Butler, says, “On behalf of the ANMF, we wish all of our nursing colleagues a happy International Nurses Day.

“It’s a very special day for us, where we celebrate our profession’s achievements and the impact of nurses on the lives of individuals, families and communities across the country.”

“Whether working in hospital EDs, in nursing homes, caring for those at the end of life or at the beginning, nurses play a crucial role in supporting our health wherever we are and whatever our need is.”

Ms Butler says the ANMF has also called on political candidates for the Federal Election, on 21 May, to commit to health and aged care system improvements.

These include key priorities of a well-funded and regulated aged care system, and a strong, valued post-pandemic healthcare workforce that is supported to work safely and effectively.

“It’s abundantly clear that despite the recent tragedies we have seen worldwide, nurses are leading the way to make the world a better place for patients and communities,” says Ms Butler.

“But a key question remains, will the next Australian Government take action on what really matters for the health of all Australians?

“The ANMF encourages everyone to take a stand to actively make your voices heard for what is right and just in this Federal Election.”

The ANMF has also backed the Fair Work Commission case to increase aged care wages by 25 percent and recently found in a survey that most nurses who responded would work in aged care if there were a registered nurse on-site 24/7, guaranteed minimum staffing levels and decent wages.

Ms Butler says, “There are many aged care nurses who have left the aged care sector because the crisis has simply become too much to bear, but who have told us that they would return to aged care if there were safe workloads, decent wages and support for them to provide quality care.

“And, many more will be attracted to start work in the sector if there are reasonable conditions and competitive pay rates.

“Current award rates simply don’t reflect the value of the work in aged care or how the nature of the work has changed and become more complex, requiring greater skill and responsibility under more difficult conditions.”

Issues faced by nurses mirrored in reasons for aged care workers’ strike

While nurses have called for workforce support, aged care workers from major providers walked off the job earlier this week to take strike action over pay rates, workforce shortage and the care of residents.

It was the first time aged care workers had ever taken national strike action on the issues and the workers came from providers that manage 120 facilities, caring for almost 10,000 residents.

Hundreds of members of the United Workers Union (UWU), union for working people including aged care workers, walked off the job across WA and Queensland to strike on Tuesday.

A walk off was also planned in Adelaide, however it was postponed until after the Federal Election to allow providers more time to arrange adequate replacement staff.

South Australian aged care workers who were not rostered to work on Tuesday still gathered to protest.

UWU Aged Care Director, Carolyn Smith, says aged care workers have been pushed to the brink by working conditions.

“Aged care workers have been pushed to do double and triple shifts, facing dire conditions in PPE and no let up in sight in many facilities,” says Ms Smith.

“But COVID was just the latest burden in an aged care system already in crisis.

“Aged care workers report aged care residents are frustrated, upset and humiliated as they wait too long to be showered, too long for soiled pads to be changed and too long, sometimes, even to be fed.

“All this while aged care workers earn some of the lowest wages in Australia.”

The decision to strike for the first time showed courage and the care workers truly have for residents, says Ms Smith.

“By standing together and taking strike action, aged care workers were able to show they had the guts, the strength and the determination to change aged care for the better,” she says.

“Their fight for better pay, more staff and more time to care was broadcast on television Australia-wide as major news outlets reported on strikes from the Torres Strait Islands to Brisbane to Perth.”

Ms Smith says although aged care workers will continue to hold employers to account, the aged care crisis is also a “failure by the Morrison Government”.

“The Morrison Government has failed to show up for workers, failed to make things better for workers, and failed aged care residents,” says Ms Smith.

“That's the way it's been in aged care for years - and aged care workers have shown they will also be holding Scott Morrison responsible for those failures.”

The strike action was planned between the hours of 11.30am and 4.30pm so that workers could make sure lunch was prepared for residents before walking off and could return in time for dinner preparation.

The Union also gave providers more than the minimum required notice of the strike action so that they could ensure residents received continuous care.

Sean Rooney, Chief Executive Officer of peak national body for aged care service providers Leading Age Services Australia (LASA), says providers were supportive of the action.

“We haven’t received any reports from our members of any operational issues as a result of yesterday’s action,” says Mr Rooney.

“Providers understand the reasons why the action was taken and support the Fair Work Commission work value case and call on all parties, whoever is elected to Government, to support the outcome and fully fund a pay rise for aged care staff, as recommended by the Royal Commission.

“We commend aged care workers to continue their compassionate and dedicated work in looking after the residents and clients in their care.”

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