"Thanks Nurse" — unless you work in aged care
As nurses and their local communities throughout NSW prepared to celebrate International Nurses Day on May 12, the theme, "Thanks Nurse", had an ironic ring. An aged care Assistant in Nursing receives $12.86 per hour, compared to a supermarket shelf packer at $14.20 per hour. Ongoing problems in the aged care sector cast a shadow over the celebrations, with aged care nurses, residents and their relatives at many nursing homes preparing to protest about low wages and poor working conditions in the sector. Aged care nurses from a number of nursing homes around Sydney assembled at Lane Cove and Circular Quay on the Day to make their point and collect more signatures on the NSW Nurses Association's (NSWNA) petition to the Federal Parliament on aged care issues. The peak-hour protest along Epping Road, Lane Cove, included concerned nursing home residents and their relatives. Other aged care nurses around the State used the Day to step-up their A Fair Share for Aged Care campaign and collect more signatures on the petition. NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes said International Nurses Day gives the general public and nurses themselves, in every city, suburb and town, a chance to acknowledge the vital work nurses do in the community. It is a chance to say thanks for the magnificent contribution hundreds of thousands of nurses have made to NSW over the years and reflect on the importance of nursing to our personal and social well-being — both now and in the future. "Unfortunately, the Federal Government's aged care policies, and the attitude of nursing home operators towards their nursing staff at the moment, are increasingly turning aged care nursing into a thankless task. If we don't do something to reverse the situation, and provide better pay and conditions for aged care nurses, then the sector will find it increasingly difficult to attract qualified and committed staff and to maintain standards of care to residents", Mr Holmes said. Aged care nurses recently held a series of meetings around the State and voted to reject a pay offer from the State's nursing home and hostel operators, which would leave them earning between 12 and 14 per cent less than nurses at the nearby public hospitals. The union said nurses viewed this offer as an insult to a nursing workforce that is essential to the welfare and dignity of elderly Australians. Such a major undervaluing of the nurses who care for frail elderly Australians is not in anyone's interests. It is not only a serious injustice, but will put further pressure on an already struggling aged care sector. "Not only will this offer leave them way behind other nurses, but it also leaves aged care nurses well behind many people doing jobs with lower levels of responsibility. People would be shocked to learn that the standard hourly rate for a 4th Year Assistant in Nursing in a NSW nursing home, who provides care for frail elderly people, is $12.86 per hour, while the rate for an adult (over 21) supermarket shelf packer is $14.20 per hour. "The only way we can genuinely rebuild nursing as an attractive career option and maintain a high quality aged care system is to ensure there is wage parity for nurses across all our health and aged care sectors. "If aged care employers won't do that the NSWNA will run a case against them in the NSW Industrial Relations Commission, similar to the one we are running for public hospital nurses. Planning for this case is already well advanced", Mr Holmes said.