The photo above: Yass nurse Paul Haines attending Sydney rally today.

Yass union member nurses and midwives have voted in favour of a 24-hour statewide strike today, 23 November, over safe staffing and fair pay. 

Paul Haines, President of the Yass Branch of NSW Nurses and Midwives Association, spoke to The Times prior to the strike.

“Yass as a branch all voted and 100 per cent of the membership voted to go on strike,” Haines said.

NSW Nurses & Midwives Association Yass Branch President Paul Haines

“The cornerstone of the claim that we are putting forward to the government is one nurse to every three patients in ED and one to four on every ward as well.”

Haines said that the previous three statewide strikes this year has had varied success.

“It depends on which government you speak to. The Liberal government are continually denying that there is a problem. They keep telling us that the system is strong and it’s coping when it clearly isn’t.

“However, Labour have actually committed to a safe staffing ratio, if they win the election, which actually means in certain areas nurse to patient ratios will actually be implemented, which is a great start.”

The Yass nurses and midwives who are taking part in the strike will head up to Sydney today to rally. 

“Those members that are taking part will be heading up to Sydney to the main rally to be involved in it up there.

“We’re not doing anything locally in terms of an actual rally. We’ll be heading up to Sydney with the nurses from Queanbeyan, Cooma and Goulburn.

“We will never leave the [Yass] hospital in an unsafe situation. So, we will be skeleton staffing, which basically means night shift staffing. We’ll have at least two nurses there, with probably more than that. 

“We have committed from a union point of view to have at least two members of staff on to provide life-preserving treatment.

Photo June 2021 Lovesh Kumar, Sandra Muscat, Leah Lloyd, Tina Bryers, Annah Witt, and Paul Haines, Yass Hospital staff who are members of NSW Nurses and Midwives Association

“We hope the community know that we’re doing this so we can get a better and safer hospital for all community members, that’s what we’re really pushing for. This is about patient safety, what we’re pushing for as a nursing group.”

After months of protracted talks with the NSW government, public sector nurses and midwives have voted in favour of a 24-hour strike next Wednesday, the fourth statewide action this year.

Fed up with inaction by the NSW government to address widespread staffing and workloads issues, thousands of NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) members will walk off the job from 7am (morning shift) on 23 November until 7am on 24 November (end of night shift).

NSWMMA General Secretary, Shaye Candish, said nurses and midwives were tired of being ignored over calls for safe staffing, better working conditions and fair pay to recognise their contribution to the health system.

“Since our first statewide strike on 15 February, nurses and midwives have gone above and beyond to put patient care ahead of their own basic needs. Shift after shift they have continued, burdened by short staffing and constant requests for overtime,” said Ms Candish.

“At the end of March, we held a second statewide strike after the NSW government failed to engage in meaningful talks about shift-by-shift nurse-to-patient ratios to ensure safe patient care.

“Following our third statewide strike on 1 September, NSW Labor announced its Safe Staffing policy, a commitment that will see improvements in emergency departments, ICUs, maternity services and Multipurpose Services, and the introduction of shift-by-shift staffing levels in most wards and units.

“This finally prompted talks with the NSW government however, it is now mid-November, and no real solutions have been offered to address the health staffing or workload crisis. The government must also get rid of its wages policy and start acknowledging the value of our nurses and midwives.

“The evidence is clear that wage caps are hurting public sector workers’ livelihoods and their retirement savings, and it’s time for them to be abolished.”

NSWNMA Assistant General Secretary, Michael Whaites, said members were overwhelmingly committed to fighting for widespread reforms to attract and retain the best health workforce in NSW.

“Our members are angry and upset, knowing so many colleagues with years of clinical experience are moving to work interstate or choosing to leave the profession,” said Mr Whaites.

Recent nurses rally through Yass – Nurse Sean Beecher holds a compelling sign‘STOP TELLING US TO COPE’

“Despite the NSW government agreeing change is needed, they have failed to acknowledge the urgency or act to address the issues impacting metropolitan and regional health services.

“Nurses and midwives have endured three years of a chaotic and disruptive pandemic, but they have been overworked and undervalued by this government for much longer.

“Rather than winding down the clock before the election next March, the NSW government must listen to nurses and midwives who have the clinical expertise to understand how to best deliver quality outcomes for patients and health staff, regardless of where they live.”

Over the coming days, NSWNMA branches will confirm public rallies to be held around the state from Sydney to Albury and Broken Hill to Tweed Heads. During the 24-hour strike, life-preserving services will be maintained in all public hospitals and health services.

The NSWNMA confirmed it would continue meeting with the NSW government to discuss members’ demands for safe staffing ratios and improved working conditions.

Tim Warren