I didn’t think it was possible, but the last few months have given me more admiration for HSU members than ever. It’s not an exaggeration to say that our world has changed forever. The fact that Australia has largely avoided the horrendous scenes that are playing out overseas is mainly thanks to the incredible efforts of health and aged care workers. Of course, the HSU’s focus has been – as always – to support members through the unprecedented challenges that have been coming thick and fast during the COVID-19 crisis.
We’ve been fighting hard to make sure that members have proper access to appropriate PPE, delivering hand sanitiser (and chocolates) to workplaces to keep members safe, and of course continuing to provide much-needed support with matters like leave and workplace change. Our health and aged care workplaces have had to adapt quicker than ever before to deal with the consequences of the pandemic, and the HSU has been right there with them. We’ve significantly expanded our capacity to make sure that we are there for members every step of the way. Being able to adapt has always been vital to the survival of the HSU, and I’m glad to say we have passed this test with flying colours. Along the way, there have been plenty of opportunities to celebrate. The announcement at Easter of free parking for NSW Health employees was a long time coming, but it made our victory even sweeter.
The Union has been strongly agitating for private health facilities and councils to follow suit, and we’ve had considerable success so far. HSU Patient Transport Officers also enjoyed a win when they asserted the danger of transporting more than one patient at a time for safety reasons. This speaks not only to the unity of purpose amongst HSU members, but also the sense of civic duty that is part and parcel of being a health worker. Of course, one of the Union’s biggest wins during this period has been in the court of public opinion. For once, classifications represented by the HSU have been rightly celebrated as the heroes they are.
People are waking up to the fact that workers they may never have thought of are saving lives every day. We’ve been saying it for a long time before anyone had heard of coronavirus, and we’re not about to let them forget it once the danger has passed. For now, we have plenty to focus on. The unwelcome news has reached us that the NSW Government is considering a wage freeze for public sector workers, including the heroic health workers who have guided us through the crisis. We’re going to fight this unfair and ungrateful penny-pinching policy, but we’re not going to stop there.
This is an opportunity for HSU members to take on the ridiculous and arbitrary 2.5% wages cap and drag Awards into the 21st century. Health workers have proved themselves indispensable during this crisis, and it’s time we asked for what’s rightfully ours. Likewise, the HSU will be leading the charge in Aged Care. We’ve just learnt that ACSA (Aged & Community Services Australia), a bargaining bloc that represents approximately 60% of aged care employers, is crying poor and will only be offering a negligible 1.5% pay rise.
For the workers who have been faithfully caring for older people through the crisis and intense pressure, this is simply not good enough. We will be fighting for better and continuing our ongoing struggle to make sure the Federal Government’s Aged Care Retention Payment is expanded to ALL aged care professionals. As a Union, it’s our job to make sure that no one is left behind. Lastly, I want to extend a warm welcome to the thousands of new members who have joined in recent months. The HSU is a stronger and happier place for your presence.