West Australian nurses and midwives strike after rejecting pay and conditions offer

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Thousands of operations, including procedures for cancer patients, have been canceled as nurses and midwives in Western Australia strike over an ill-fated pay offer.

The industrial action comes as the Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) ignored a summons to appear before the Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) this morning over the dispute over pay and conditions.

Thousands of nurses and midwives gathered outside the front of the state parliament and shouted “we will not take it anymore.”

Wearing their work uniforms and holding signs demanding a five percent pay rise, they loudly booed the government’s claims that they are putting patient safety at risk by striking.

The IRC today sought to ban any bus company from transporting staff who had to be at work.

But that bid was ultimately fruitless with an ANF spokesman confirming that every bus the union had booked was full to capacity.

Trade union ‘risks patient safety’

Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson and the state government have also made a last-ditch effort to discourage nurses and midwives from joining the strike.

A newspaper lies flat on a table
A government ‘public service announcement’ was published in the Friday edition of WA’s daily newspaper.(ABC News: Kenneth Png)

A full-page government newspaper ad warned “Western Australians will experience disruption in public hospitals today due to unprecedented and illegal industrial action by the Nurses’ Union.

Ms Sanderson has declined to speak to ABC Perth today but issued a statement accusing the union of putting patient safety at risk.

Wage demands would cripple the economy: Premier

Speaking in Collie, Premier Mark McGowan urged nurses to stay at work and accused the ANF of breaking the law.

“It is erratic and illegal and they are not acting in good faith,” he said.

Young people stand outside the parliament with colored signs
Some nurses were bussed to the convention from public hospitals across Perth.(ABC News: Briana Shepherd)

The prime minister said an offer made last week met most of the ANF’s key demands and was accepted in principle by union leadership before they “turned back”.

“So I don’t understand why this industrial action is taking place against the orders of the Industrial Relations Commission,” he said.

McGowan said a five per cent pay rise was unreasonable and the state’s $6 billion surplus did not change that.

A medium shot of WA Premier Mark McGowan speaking outside State Parliament during a media conference.
WA Premier Mark McGowan says a 5 per cent pay rise was “unreasonable”.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

“It’s not fair to ask for that, and the state can’t do it,” he said.

“Profits will go down, profits are a one-year thing.”

“We want to make sure we protect the state from the recession coming next year.”

Asked if he accepted any responsibility for the dispute that resulted in the strike or any responsibility for potential adverse patient outcomes, Mark McGowan placed the blame on ANF.

“In the negotiations, the nurses’ union said ‘if you arrange for us to decide’, we arranged for it,” he said.

Nurses gather in the Danish Parliament
Nurses gather at Parliament House to strike after pay talks fail.(ABC News: Briana Shepherd)

“Then they said, ‘if you give this extra allowance to some of the more senior nurses, we’ll settle’, we took care of that, they didn’t decide.”

“That’s what we’re dealing with… it’s not a rational way for the nurses’ union to act.”

The premier said hospitals were already feeling the effects of the strike.

‘Blood’ on the government’s hands

Ms Reah told 6PR Radio that the Minister of Health had called her before 6pm. 06:00 today and effectively guaranteed the strike would continue when she said there would be no change to the pay offer.

“She asked me to call off the strike, she said we were putting patients and the community at risk, which I deny,” she said.

“Our members are smart enough to know who can go to the convention and strike, and who should stay in the wards and areas to look after the patients.”

“She also said she would not be speaking to members today as we are involved in ‘illegal strike action’ which I again deny that charge.”

A woman dressed in a white jacket stands outside looking serious, watched by a man and a woman.
The health minister says she spoke to Janet Reah (right) on Friday morning.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

Nurses and midwives demand at least a five percent pay rise.

Asked if the union would have “blood on its hands” if patients died because of the nurses’ strike, Ms Reah said the “blood” would be on “the government’s hands”.

Ms Reah also confirmed that she boycotted her summons to appear before the IRC this morning because she believed it was an attempt to prevent her from attending the 7am meeting. 11 a.m.

Lumpectomy delayed

Ms Reah claimed category 1 elective surgeries would still go ahead amid the strikes, but that was not the case for Sally-Anne Kelly, who was booked in for a breast cancer lumpectomy at Fremantle Hospital.

On Thursday, Ms Kelly was in hospital for a procedure that injects dye into the breast to prepare for a lumpectomy.

A woman with blond hair and a colored shirt is sitting in a garden
Sally-Anne Kelly had her breast cancer lumpectomy delayed by two weeks because of the strike.(Provided by: Sally-Anne Kelly)

Mrs Kelly described the procedure as “invasive” and the sort of thing you don’t want to do twice, but as she left hospital her husband was contacted to confirm her operation the next day had been cancelled.

It was what Mrs Kelly expected to happen when she heard the news of the strikes, but she said they should have told her earlier.

“If they had canceled it before I had the injection I would have gone and looked, I understand you can’t work without nurses,” she said.

“They should have been able to figure out very easily that they had to cancel.”

The delay has extended Mrs Kelly’s month-long wait for her operation by another two weeks, meaning her husband will have to take more time off work.

“It’s just become a nightmare,” she said.

“I don’t blame the nurses at all, but I blame the fact that admin couldn’t figure out that they had to cancel today.”

Regional nurse meeting

Dozens of nurses at Broome Regional Hospital were among the first in the state to show up this morning.

Nurse Claire Kerfoot said while staffing issues were being felt across the country, the increased cost of living in northern WA had also hit their pockets hard.

Nurses gather outside a national hospital
Nurses rallied outside Broome’s hospital to show their support for their metro colleagues.(ABC Kimberley: Hannah Barry)

“The last year has seen a huge rent increase and it’s exorbitantly expensive to pay to live up here,” she said.

“It is really difficult to retain staff, and we are losing many employees at the moment.”

About 40 nurses gathered outside Pilbara MP Kevin Michel’s office in Karratha, chanting various slogans including: “Wake up, Kev.”

A woman in a green shirt and hat stands in front of the crowd
Gill Furlong says she is proud to be involved in the strike in Karratha.(ABC Pilbara: Amelia Searson)

Gill Furlong, whose nursing career spans more than 30 years, said she was concerned about safety issues stemming from the nursing shortage.

“There are not enough bodies, there is not enough care that can be provided for what is needed.”

“Please listen to us. Make it safe, make it safe for our patients make it safe for me, for my kids, for everyone, please.”

Nurses hold up signs and sing outside a hospital
Dozens of nurses met in Kalgoorlie on Friday.(ABC Goldfields: Giulia Bertoglio)

The Danish Health Authority has also canceled an awards evening for nurses and midwives, which was supposed to take place this evening.

Some nurses expressed disappointment and claimed the move was to punish nurses and midwives.

“It seems like a really vindictive move by GD,” said one nurse.

“There are lots of very angry and upset nurses (including me) who have spent a lot of money preparing for the night. Not to mention the country nurses who have traveled from far and wide.”

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