Naracoorte Hospital staff undergo works bans as EBA negotiations fail

NEGOTIATIONS: Naracoorte Hospital workers and UWU members Jamie Bennett, Ian Henderson and Maz Travers have tajken the EBA fight to the public. PHOTO: Elisabeth Champion
NEGOTIATIONS: Naracoorte Hospital workers and UWU members Jamie Bennett, Ian Henderson and Maz Travers have tajken the EBA fight to the public. PHOTO: Elisabeth Champion

Industrial negotiations involving Naracoorte Hospital staff have come to a head with workers joining others around the state in work bans and protest action this month.

Enterprise Bargaining Agreement talks between the United Workers Union and state government began in February last year, but union delegate Ian Henderson said the government would not negotiate unless parts of the agreement related to security of employment, redundancies and leave entitlements were removed.

"We have been in discussions for 16 months, but until they get these two parts of the EBA out, they are not even talking," he said.

"This security of employment clause that the government want to take out of our EBA means the hospital will be public in name only and everything will be privatised.

"On top of that, a section which covers redundancies, retraining, leave entitlements, all of that, they want the whole clause taken out, so we wouldn't get redundancies, you don't get your superannuation, you don't get your long service.

"They haven't budged in 16 months and they won't meet with the delegates - they point-blank refuse to talk until we agree as a union to get rid of these and we have said we cannot get rid of them, that is our security."

Any changes to the EBA look set to affect up to 80 staff at the hospital in the catering, laundry, cleaning and maintenance departments as well as carers at Moreton Bay House.

"Locals will lose their jobs because they could bring in private contractors and people who have worked there all their lives will have to reapply for their jobs," Mr Henderson said.

"It will be a public hospital in name only.

"We just feel under-valued - people say, 'thank god for the health system and those who work in it', so to be treated like this by our government after so much time and effort is terrible."

Hospital workers took the matter to the streets with a small public demonstration outside Member for MacKillop Nick McBride's office last week, attracting hundreds of signatures on a statewide petition.

Treasurer Rob Lucas said the government had been involved in negotiations with the union and the the last meeting between the parties was on March 17. He denied the claims that they would not negotiate.

"The government is engaged in mediation with the union before the SA Employment Tribunal regarding enterprise bargaining and the next conference is scheduled for July 8," he said.

"The government has always been prepared to engage in sensible discussions with the union about enterprise bargaining. It has never refused, or suggested that it would refuse, to negotiate with the union for any reason.

"Part of enterprise bargaining includes negotiations to improve the efficiency of the public sector. The nature of the enterprise bargaining process is that both the government and the union bargain with each other to reach a new agreement which may involve the insertion, amendment or deletion of clauses in the agreement.

"The government has always been willing to compromise in the interests of reaching an agreement.

"The relevant enterprise agreement covers many different employees in health and other areas of government such as catering, sterilisation services, orderlies, transport, security, horticultural services, guide and recreational services, construction and maintenance services and disability services officers."

He said work bans at many country hospitals, which involve staff refusing to perform certain activities, were putting patients and staff at risk.

"Many of the tasks performed in hospitals by employees covered by the enterprise agreement are essential," he said.

"However, earlier this year the UWU sought to implement a number of work bans, including bans on cleaning, at a number of hospital sites including Naracoorte Hospital and Aged Care.

"The union took this action against advice from SA Health that the bans posed a risk to staff and patient safety.

"On 30 April 2021, the Government was successful in seeking interim orders from the SAET to overturn the union's bans on some hospital workers performing essential services.

"The union appealed the decision. On 24 May 2021, the SAET affirmed the orders that overturned those work bans at various health sites across the State."

He further said the government has no plans at this time to remove current permanent staff to be replaced with contracted or private employees in hospitals.

However, Mr Henderson said the patients at Naracoorte Hospital were not affected by the local work bans and that only 24 work bans out of 178 planned across the state were overturned by the SAET.

The delegates will meet with Member for MacKillop Nick McBride later this month.

For more information on the discussions or to sign the petition, visit www.uwu.org.au/1cy

This story Naracoorte Hospital staff rally after EBA negotiations fail first appeared on Naracoorte Herald.