Canberra Hospital radiation therapists walk off the job

Canberra Times, 20 September 2023

Radiation therapists at Canberra Hospital walked off the job on Tuesday afternoon demanding a better pay offer as their union says one-third of the team has left in the past three years.

Therapists say they are likely to lose more of their team to other states where the pay is better. Radiation therapists were recently granted an interim pay rise of 25 per cent in Queensland.

"We want to provide excellent health care to our community and to do that we need competitive wages," Canberra Hospital head of treatment radiation therapist Fiona Morgan said.

"We need to be able to attract new staff, and we need to be able to retain our current excellent staff that we've already trained up."

 Radiation therapists, through the Health Services Union, have been engaged in enterprise bargaining for the past year. The last offer was six months ago.

Ms Morgan said radiation therapists had met with Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith but had not heard anything since, they were told to wait and an offer would be made.

However, this may not happen until the end of October.

"We need them to come back and actually talk to us. We're sick of hearing there's no news," Ms Morgan said.

"We can't negotiate when they're not telling us anything. We are a small group, we are united, and we will continue to fight."

Health Services Union NSW secretary Gerard Hayes said the ACT government was dragging its feet on the issue and this was hard to believe.

"Radiation therapists are not a nice-to-have, they are a must-have," he said.

"It's hard to fathom why the ACT government is dragging its feet on this issue.

"Does it actively want to drive these radiation therapists to Queensland, where the wages are higher, the housing is cheaper and the workforce is more respected?"

Mr Hayes said the hospital had lost 19 radiation therapists in the last few years. This was from a workforce of about 50.

"That should be ringing alarm bells in the corridors of power," he said.

"Radiation therapy is not something you want to leave to good luck.

"These workers are highly skilled and absolutely critical to patient care. They deserve respect and a competitive salary."

Radiation therapists held a protest out the front of Canberra Hospital on Tuesday afternoon.

Canberra Health Services acting executive director of cancer and ambulatory support Melissa O'Brien said no planned patient care would be delayed but some appointments need to be changed to allow this.

Mrs O'Brien said she was not part of the negotiations so could not comment on that but she said radiation therapists were a valued member of the team.

"Like any worker as part of an enterprise agreement, they are entitled to go into discussion and plead their case," she said.

"I support that."

Mrs O'Brien said the hospital had been able to replace 15 of the 19 therapists who had left and there was ongoing recruitment to meet this demand.

"We have been monitoring it and will continue to try and be creative about some of our recruitment attempts to get people to fill those gaps," she said.