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Nurse resignation rate looks set to increase in Queensland

18 September, 2006

Queensland Nurses Union (QNU) members at Uniting HealthCare (UHC) hospitals have voted overwhelmingly to reject a new enterprise bargaining agreement, which pays them less than public hospital nurses.

When the vote was counted recently, more than 80 per cent of the nurses who voted – 615 out of 762 formal votes - had rejected the UHC pay and conditions offer. Huge NO votes were recorded at UHC’s flagship hospitals, the Wesley at Auchenflower (85 per cent) and the Sunshine Coast Private Hospital at Buderim (96 per cent).

UHC is the second largest provider of acute private healthcare in Queensland, with over 1000 licensed beds at five hospitals and one day surgery facility.

QNU private-sector industrial officer, Gayle McCaul, said the QNU is not surprised by this result, as the employer has been warned this would happen if they proceeded with the vote.

“UHC needs to have a good hard look at this result. The QNU did not run a formal NO campaign against the agreement. We provided our members with the necessary information, without any recommendation on how to vote, and they have stated loud and clear that the offer is unacceptable,” McCaul said.

“Unlike other private hospital operators, UHC is refusing to offer its nurses wage parity with the public sector.  That is despite making misleading claims to the contrary in a recent article in The Australian newspaper.

“Over the life of the UHC proposal most general ward nurses – Registered Nurse Level One Year Eight – would be, on average, 2.5 per cent or about $25.00 per week behind their colleagues working in public hospitals. At various times over the next few years they could have been up to 5.5 per cent behind. Is it any wonder they rejected the offer?

“In terms of the nurses who manage the wards – the Level 3 nurses – UHC has also refused to negotiate comparable wage packages, which would leave these vital leadership nurses up to $20,000.00 per year behind their public hospital counterparts by the end of the agreement.

“Unlike the public hospital sector, UHC has also refused to negotiate firm professional development leave or allowance arrangements. For example, public hospitals nurses now get three days paid professional development leave a year and a $1500.00 allowance to cover annual costs. At UHC hospitals the allowance is currently zero and their leave policy is unclear.

“The proposed UHC agreement also offered qualification allowance, superannuation, maternity leave and long service leave arrangements that are inferior to those available to public sector nurses.

“Unless UHC substantially improves its offer then it will continue to lose nurses to the public sector. QNU officials are aware of many UHC nurses attending public hospital induction and information sessions in recent times.

“The loss of nurses will cause significant workload problems for those nurses who stay. It could also lead to the increased use of unlicensed health workers, which raises serious questions about the maintenance of quality patient care and professional nursing standards in these acute hospitals.

“In an attempt to avoid this loss of nurses the QNU has contacted UHC seeking to reopen negotiations,” McCaul said.

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