Nurses will strike from 7am to 7pm on Tuesday, February 15 at Yass Hospital and across the state.

The NSW nurses’ union vowed to defy an eleventh-hour order from the Industrial Relations Commission to call off the planned state-wide strike.

Late on Monday afternoon, the Commission ordered the union to immediately cease organising the strike and to refrain from taking any kind of industrial action for the next month.

“The [NSW Nurses and Midwives’] Association must immediately take all reasonable steps to discourage and prevent its members employed in NSW Health entities from taking industrial action,” the orders signed by Commissioner John Murphy said.

The union was further ordered to remove any reference to the strike from its website and Facebook page and send an email or text to all members instructing them to call off the strike.

President of the Yass branch of the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association Paul Haines said there will be a skeleton crew at Yass Hospital for life-preserving measures. This is similar to night shift staffing with two nurses covering any emergencies and the basic care for patients in the ward.

Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses and midwives across NSW are calling for pay rises and legislated staff to patient ratios, similar to those in ACT, Queensland and Victoria.

“We as nurses have a professional responsibility to advocate for safe patient care,” Paul said.

“When we can no longer keep our patients safe, every shift, we’re sort of confronted with short staffing, excessive workloads, and are stretched beyond what’s reasonable or safe to keep our health system functioning properly.”

Paul said the changes were needed to prevent a further loss of qualified health professionals to other jurisdictions such as the ACT, where conditions are better.

“What we want is shift by shift nursing ratios so we can provide safe and proper patient care to the people of New South Wales.”

The union is campaigning for one nurse to three patients in the emergency department and one nurse to four patients in hospital wards.

Paul said the union is also calling for a commitment to a fair pay rise and withdraw a legislative amendment to the Workers Compensation Act that forces workers to prove they contracted COVID-19 at work in order to be properly compensated.

In 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic, the Berejiklian Government paused the annual 2.5 per cent annual pay rise to all public sector workers, instead opting for a 0.3 per cent alternative.

The second year of the pandemic saw this rise to 1.5 per cent while Dominic Perrottet was the state Treasurer.

Currently if staff contract COVID-19, Paul said they must prove that they contracted it at work to be eligible for workers compensation, which is almost impossible to prove.

“It’s not the same in any other jurisdictions,” Paul said. “What we want is parity with other systems as well.”

In the ACT if nurses’ contract COVID-19 then they take special leave rather then personal leave.

“You’ve got lots of nurses now who have run out of their own personal leave because they have had COVID multiple times, and they’ve not got any sick leave left,” he said.

Paul said nurses don’t strike easily so to have 99% of nursing branches vote to strike is incredible.

“[Nurses] are really a compassionate bunch so we worry about our patients,” he said. “But it’s just a testament to how fed-up people are.”

“If we continue like this, we’re going to end up with a shell of a hospital.”

Paul is encouraging the community to attend the rally on Tuesday from 10am when Paul and other union members will speak outside the Yass Hospital.

By Brianna O’Rourke