On Tuesday, 15th February 2022, nurses across the public health system in the state of New South Wales (NSW), Australia took strike action for the first time in a decade, demanding mandated nurse-to-patient ratios for each shift, a fair pay rise and a pandemic allowance. Despite a last-minute order by the Industrial Relations Commission to call the action off, the nurses pressed ahead, launching a series of staggered strikes in over 150 hospitals.
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No worker takes strike action lightly, least of all those who have dedicated their working lives to care. Yet crisis after crisis has left nurses in NSW with little choice, the Omicron wave accelerating longstanding issues in the state’s health system. ‘Enough is enough,’ signs held by the thousands of nurses who gathered in towns and cities across NSW declared.
NSWNMA General Secretary, Brett Holmes said:
“For over 10 years we have campaigned for shift by shift ratios for nurses and better staffing for midwives because we know ratios work, they save lives and save money. Our role is not to simply stay at the bedside keeping patients alive – we have a duty to everyone in our care to stand up and speak out, especially those unable to do so for themselves.”
‘Enough is enough,’ signs held by the thousands of nurses who gathered in towns and cities across NSW declared.
In a country that has avoided the worst excesses of COVID-19 deaths found elsewhere, the tremendous effort of nurses on the frontline has elicited a wave of public support for the strike. As nurses and their supporters gathered on the streets, many took to social media to give their backing to the action.
NSWNMA Assistant General Secretary, Shaye Candish, said it was disgraceful how quickly the NSW government had praised nurses and midwives, yet continued to ignore the need for safe staffing or better pay and conditions to support the health workforce.
“Unless you want to see us here again, Premier, listen to all of us and meet our demands,” said Ms Candish.
“We want you to implement our shift by shift nursing and midwifery staffing claims for safe patient care; commit to a fair pay rise above 2.5% and introduce a COVID-19 allowance; and withdraw the amendment to the Workers’ Compensation Act that would force health workers to prove they contracted COVID-19 at work.”
Nurse to patient ratios have been repeatedly proven to save lives as well as prevent burnout and injuries to nurses.
Despite a sea of creative signs and joyful solidarity, the speeches and stories from nurses made it clear how serious the situation they face is. Significant staffing issues have been worsened by the pandemic, threatening patient safety and causing career burnout, creating a vicious cycle with deadly consequences.
Nurse to patient ratios have been repeatedly proven to save lives as well as prevent burnout and injuries to nurses. Mandated ratios for all shifts should be part of every health system.
In their struggle the nurses are fighting for the very future of NSW’s health system. PSI stands with them all the way.