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Low-pay claim for practice nurses

The ANF has lodged an application for a low pay bargaining case to be heard by Fair Work Australia for nurses working in general practice.

The Australian Nursing Federation has filed an application with Fair Work Australia (FWA) to negotiate a new minimum standard in pay and conditions for practice nurses.

The union is hoping to replicate its earlier success with the aged-care industry and has made an application for a low-paid bargaining authorisation on behalf of this group of nurses working in general practice and medical clinics.

"The Fair Work Act 2009 now provides assistance for those groups of employees who are considered to be low paid and have had a history of difficulty in securing collective agreements. We think practice nurses meet both tests," said Nick Blake, the ANF’s senior federal industrial officer.

The decision follows an unsuccessful attempt in the middle of last year to engage with more than 1000 practices in NSW, Victoria and Tasmania over new collective bargaining arrangements, he said. The union is calling for a minimum 20 per cent wage rise over three years, and improvements to leave and superannuation conditions.

"The ANF does believe that practice nurses’ terms of conditions of employment are low compared to their colleagues and peers employed in hospital settings and other nursing sectors. One of the reasons is that there is a low incidence of collective agreements in primary care compared with the hospitals and aged care sector," said Blake.

A precedent was set last May when FWA issued a landmark judgment involving its first low-paid bargaining order for the aged care sector.

The AMA is opposing the ANF’s claim and the organisation’s president, Dr Steve Hambleton, has written to members to help fight the industrial action. "While the AMA firmly believes that practice nurses do a wonderful job in supporting GPs and other specialists to deliver quality care, we do not agree that they fall into the category of low paid as envisaged by the Fair Work Act," Hambleton said in an email sent to GPs on January 19. "There is little doubt that the ANF will look to rope more practices into the union’s claim if it receives a favourable ruling from FWA."

To assist the AMA in preparing its case, it is conducting a survey of practices to gather information on the current working conditions of practice nursing staff. The survey will run until February 10.

A preliminary Fair Work Australia conference was held on December 19. The AMA, the Victorian Hospital Industrial Association, Australian Business Industrial and a number of consultants acting on behalf of individual medical clinics were in attendance representing employers.

At the conference, the ANF proposed a timetable of hearings to commence in March but employer groups said that they needed more time to consult and to survey their members. FWA formal hearings have been scheduled for late June.

The ANF however, has said it is concerned that some employer groups may recommend their client use this time to promote individual flexibility agreements and place pressure on practice nurses to accept changes to their existing terms and conditions as a way of moving their clients out of the application.

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