Australian health workers to close intensive care units in Victoria next week

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Logo of the Health Services Union

Members of Australia's Health Services Union (HSU) will go on strike in Victoria next week in a dispute over stalled wage and career structure negotiations. Over 5000 physiotherapists, speech pathologists and radiation therapists will walk off the job next week, effectively closing the state's 68 largest health services.

The strike will force the closure of intensive care units and emergency departments across the state.

It is feared the strike could continue into Easter.

National secretary of the HSU, Kathy Jackson said admissions would be crippled, while intensive care patients would have to be evacuated to New South Wales, Tasmania and South Australia as hospitals will not be able to perform tests or administer treatment.

"When an ambulance shows up you can't admit a patient without an X-ray being available, you can't intubate them and you can't operate on them," she said.

"If something goes wrong in an ICU you need to be able to X-ray, use nuclear medicine or any diagnostic procedure," said Ms Jackson.

Ms Jackson said the HSU offered arbitration last year, but the state government refused. "They're not interested in settling disputes, they hope that we are just going to go away."

"We're not going away, we've gone back and balloted the whole public health workforce in Victoria, those ballots were successful, 97 percent approval rating," she said.

The HSU is urging the government to commence serious negotiations to resolve the dispute before industrial action commenced.

The government has offered the union a 3.25 per cent pay increase, in line with other public sector workers but the union has demanded more, but stopped short of specifying a figure.

Victorian Premier John Brumby said the claim would be settled according to the government's wages policy. "The Government is always willing and wanting to sit down and negotiate with the relevant organisations . . . we have a wages policy based around an increase of 3.25 per cent and, above that, productivity offset," he told parliament.

The union claims it is also arguing against a lack of career structure, which has caused many professionals to leave the health service. Ms Jackson said wages and career structures in Victoria were behind other states.

Victorian Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu said he was not in support of the proposed strike and called on the government to meet with unions. "There could not be a more serious threat to our health system than has been announced today."

"We now have to do whatever is possible to stop this strike from proceeding," he said.

The opposition leader will meet with the union at 11:30 AM today.

Victorian Hospitals Industry Association industrial relations services manager Simon Chant said hospitals were looking at the possible impact and warned that patients may have to be evacuated interstate if the strike goes ahead.

Sources

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