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Australia's Nursing Crisis and "WorkChoices"

The following article was sent to me by a nurse who currenlty practices in rural Victoria. - James Sinnamon

Across Australia and indeed, the World, the nursing system is in crisis. Around the Globe, there remains a chronic shortage of nurses. This shortage is caused by many factors including cost cutting measures, lack of educational opportunities in universities and collages, diminished opportunity for advancement and the low pay rates of nurses compared to other professions.

On top of the above, the Australian nursing workforce is currently experiencing an attack of unprecedented proportions from the Federal Government in the form of "Workchoices". The effects of Workchoices have been felt most immediately in the private nursing sector where nurses have been sacked for "operational reasons" which is perfectly legal under Workchoices and been replaced with lower paid Personal Care Attendants (PCA's) and Assistants in Nursing (AIN's). To add insult to injury, some Division 2 nurses in Victoria (EN's in other States) have been dismissed from their roles in aged care facilities for operational reasons, only to be asked to resume work as lower paid AIN's or PCA's, a move that has infuriated effected nurses and their colleagues. This situation could not have happened prior to the introduction of Workchoices. Howard's life long desire to attack ordinary people doing extraordinary jobs has finally been achieved.

One of the saddest aspects of the above situation is that those Division 2 nurses have paid their own way through a course that was meant to set them up for life and now find themselves in a precarious position in that should they decide to take up positions as AIN's or PCA's, but chose to keep their Div. 2 registration, they're actually working outside of regulatory guidelines and can be penalized as a result. They are now left with three choices:

  1. Update their qualifications, once again at their own expense,
  2. apply to be de-registered by the Nurses Board of Victoria,
  3. or to continue to work in full knowledge that they are working outside of their "scope of practice".

Those who choose the latter are leaving themselves open to serious consequences, but some may be tempted to do so hoping that they might obtain work in another facility where their current registration will be required.

Those who choose to become de-registered or let their registration lapse will become a disillusioned group of workers affected by despondency and low moral. Many will simply leave the system altogether causing further shortages, particularly in the area of aged care.

Those who choose to update their qualifications will face the prospect of competition against young school leavers for limited university places since many of these displaced nurses are in an older age bracket. Being "mature aged" often means juggling household responsibilities with the demands of education should they be fortunate enough to obtain a place in a Bachelor of Nursing university course. Some find this an impossible situation and become those amongst the statistics of early "drop-out." Added to this is the cost of a university placing. In Victoria, the figure to complete the Bachelor of Nursing course is around $12,000, not including certain necessary books, most of which come at a high price due to their specialty and low volume sales.

However, should one of these affected nurses find sufficient drive to complete the course, the newly registered nurses now finds themselves up against Howard's abominable "Workchoices."

Under "WorkChoices", power is given largely to employers and whilst it can be said that these new laws don't appear to be affecting the greater percentage of the working population at present, we have to remember that Australia is currently experiencing a period of unprecedented prosperity, due largely to current Government practices which have turned our beautiful country into a giant quarry in it's bid to cash in on the Worldwide rush to embrace unsustainable economic growth. History will repeat and just like the size of a balloon, the bigger this economic bubble is allowed to grow, the bigger the bang when the bubble is finally pricked. That's when Howard's Workchoices will do their most damage. Then, all the rhetoric of Government and big business advertising will be shown up for what it is, one huge lie! A company will be allowed to take the easy way out and sack unwanted workers, even those who command top positions will be vulnerable. So too with nurses! After the bubble bursts, it will simply be a matter of time before hospitals and nursing homes use the power of Workchoices to further downsize their nursing workforce in order to prop up their profits whilst adding further to the nursing crisis.

This will be a terrible shame because most people don't become nurses for the money, especially in the private sector where nurses receive on average $250 a week less than their counterparts in other areas. Also, nursing wages fall far below that of someone driving a truck in a mine, or doing shift work in many factories. Even in the public system, the average wage of a Div.2 nurse can be just $19.75 an hour (permanent position) which is little better than the Governments own minimum allowable rate of approximately $16.25 an hour. A Div.1 nurse fares little better considering all the study undertaken to achieve this professional status, not to mention the added cost of education.

I haven't always been a Labor voter and until recently was deceived into believing the rhetoric and outright lies of the Coalition when they say "they" are the "better economic managers." If you repeat a lie often enough not only will you believe it yourself, but others that hear it often enough will believe it too. This has been the legacy of the Howard led Government. A litany of supplications has been pervading the Australian political landscape since the Howard Government came to power in 1996. I strongly urge Australian voters to put an end to the lies and secrete mandates of the Howard Government at the coming elections. Put an end to the reign of a man who conceals lies with "core" and "non-core" promises.

As for the nursing profession, should the Coalition again win another three years in power, I'm quite certain that in the not too distant future, many Liberal voters will come to wonder just why, when they push the call button from their hospital or nursing home bed, no nurse comes to their aid, for should the Coalition retain power at the 2007 elections, nursing will be a good profession to avoid or to escape from. Whilst the nursing profession currently thinks more about patient care than the comparatively low financial rewards involved, there will come a breaking point when nurses will leave the profession in droves, never to return.

Comments

Your brilliant article about Australian Nurses and Workcare is the best I have read. I currently have no time to comment carefully on it but it deserves to be broadcast far and wide. It tells it like it is from every angle. I wish the best for the original author in her perceptive and courageous fight against the darkness that pervades our hospitals and our wider society. We are now in a dictatorship, with little prospect of help from the ALP, which is also focused on the same mad system and has no real value for real people or the real world (which can be so beautiful). I do agree with Candobetter however that we must vote out the current government or it will only get stronger.