Tasmania’s public sector wage dispute is reaching a tipping point, with the Health Minister threatening to dock hospital workers’ pay and bring in contract labour when industrial action escalates.
- Hospital workers say they are escalating their industrial action after rejecting the latest pay offer
- The Health Minister says industrial action will “endanger patients” and potentially cause bed closures
- A unionist has likened the breakdown in negotiations to the infamous Melbourne waterfront dispute of 1998
Public sector unions have rejected the state government’s latest pay offer, which would have amounted to a 6.75 per cent pay rise over three years.
Hospital workers who are part of the Health and Community Services Union (HACSU), which includes hospital aides, cleaners and domestic service staff, have begun escalating industrial action including cutting back on removing dirty linen and rubbish from wards, sterilising trays and cleaning public toilets.
Health Minister Michael Ferguson said the industrial action would have a direct impact on infection control and cleanliness, and would endanger patients.
“The Department of Health has advised that if the bans announced by HACSU bosses proceed, critical services will cease and there will be serious impacts on patients and attendant public health risks,” Mr Ferguson said.
“The union action is designed potentially to close beds, and I think they would close, or at least be significantly slowed down, and it will have an impact.”
The Minister said the Health Department Secretary was writing to hospital staff to remind them of their duties, and that where duties were not performed, industrial measures including pay reductions and stand-downs would be pursued.
Mr Ferguson said he was taking advice on whether to bring in contract labour to deal with the industrial action.
“We will do what we need to do. I hope it doesn’t come to that, because we shouldn’t have to, but what we will always do is put the needs of patients first.”
Minister ‘holding knife to throat of public sector workers’: Labor
HACSU assistant secretary Robbie Moore compared the Minister’s stance to the bitterness surrounding Melbourne stevedoring company Patricks locking out their workforce and using non-union contract labour in 1998.
“We haven’t seen this type of threat since the waterfront dispute 20 years ago,” Mr Moore said.
Mr Moore said Mr Ferguson was being alarmist and the industrial action would not lead to bed closures.
“This Minister is being extremely dishonest, these bans were created by health workers, and they are designed to impact on Government and not on patients.”
Mr Moore added there was no need to bring in contract staff because the work could be covered by paying other staff overtime.
Labor’s Alison Standen accused Mr Ferguson of making threats instead of negotiating in good faith.
“The Minister, by effectively promising to hold a knife to the throat of its public sector workers, is disregarding the well-founded concerns around finding a solution for remuneration and adequate conditions,” she said.
Topics: unions, government-and-politics, hobart-7000