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Leaked cabinet papers escalate wages dispute

Secret documents reveal a proposal by Ballieu government to cut $100 million from nursing budget.

The Victorian Government has considered a plan to cut the Victorian nursing budget by more than $100 million and replace highly qualified nurses with less qualified assistants, secret cabinet documents show.

Under the plan, outlined in a submission to cabinet and signed by Victorian Health Minister David Davis, the nurses would be goaded into industrial action and forced before the arbitrator, Fair Work Australia. The plan was dated May 2011 and nominated $104.8 million in savings from the state’s nursing budget by 2015-2016.

Victorian nurses on Friday voted to take protected industrial action as part of their pay claim but, according to the cabinet document, the government would frustrate the negotiations, forcing intervention from the arbitrator.

Savings would be achieved at least partially by having assistants, rather than nurses, carry out what is described in the document as "low end" tasks.

"We are disgusted at the deception of the Baillieu government," said Lisa Fitzpatrick, ANF Victorian Branch secretary. She said the government’s ultimate strategy was to abolish nurse patient ratios and that no state government had ever tried to force nurses to arbitration.

Fair Work Australia is not able to dictate to a state government in an arbitrated outcome the numbers of nurses it must employ in its health system, the level of qualification or the hours that they should work.

Premier Ted Baillieu would not say whether the document was endorsed by cabinet but said all the matters had been raised through the EBA process.

He denied the government was trying to force Fair Work Australia to step in.

"If [the parties] don't agree, there are processes under the act to provide for a resolution. There is nothing new in that and that is exactly what happened last time."

He said the basis for the government's EBA negotiations was a 2.5 per cent pay rise plus savings that could be applied to productivity improvements.

Ballieu said the issue of replacing some nurses with nursing assistants came from Productivity Commission recommendations, but he would not say where $100 million would be cut from the annual nursing budget.

Fitzpatrick said she did not know who leaked the document but said her union would seek legal advice on it.

“The union is due to hold another meeting on Friday when there is a real possibility of a vote for bed closures,” she said.


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