Queensland nurses who belong to the Nurses’ Professional Association of Queensland (NPAQ) will now have an even stronger voice, after the Fair Work Commission heard that the organisation can sit at the enterprise bargaining table along with the Queensland Nurses and Midwives Union (QNMU).
The decision will also mean a better deal for all nurses, according to Miles Heffernan, Litigation Director at Industrial Relations Claims.
“Competition is never a bad thing, and this will remove any possibility of any ‘sweet-heart’ deals being done between a single union and a major health employer, because there will be another party sitting at the table,” he said.
QNMU admits rival union can bargain
Within minutes of the hearing commencing last week, QNMU representative Kevin Crank conceded that the rival union did have the right to represent its members during negotiations in enterprise bargaining agreements.
“The evidence to us seems to mean that… NPAQ is a bargaining representative in these proceedings,” he reluctantly admitted to Commissioner Susan Booth.
Back down comes after 12 month battle
Mr Crank’s embarrassing back down comes after he spent 12 months fighting on behalf of the QNMU to have the competing NPAQ barred from any negotiations, claiming it had no legal standing to be in the meetings.
At one point, he allegedly told health provider Bolton Clarke that the QNMU would not participate in any negotiations if the NPAQ was present.
“We feel vindicated, because we knew we were right to be there all along, and now we have had our position confirmed in the Fair Work Commission,” NPAQ Assistant Secretary Jack McGuire said.
“Nurses now have a choice who represents them at the bargaining table – and so they should.”
Nurses union accused of dirty tactics
Mr McGuire accused the QNMU of using dirty tactics, including contacting members who had decided to switch to the rival union to tell them that they would not be offered the same representation.
“They’ve been telling lies to our members that we can’t represent them in enterprise bargaining – and now it’s time they publicly acknowledged that they were wrong, because that was simply not true,” Mr McGuire said.
“They have acted only in their own self-interest in this whole matter, to protect their own financial interests, with total disregard for the conditions of hard working nurses.”
Ruling will mean better conditions for nurses
The bitter battle between the unions stems from an enterprise agreement being negotiated with Bolton Clarke, which employs hundreds of nurses to run their aged care facilities.
Mr McGuire says the result of having his union at the table will mean nurses who work in these facilities will be better off.
“There is no doubt that nurses will get a better deal as a result of this decision, because there will be more competition – we are offering competition in the union sector, the likes of which we have never seen in Australian history,” he said.
What is the QNMU so afraid of?
According to Mr McGuire, the QNMU, which was once the only union available to Queensland nurses, is afraid of losing members to the NPAQ, which now boasts more than 4000 members.
“We are growing at about 50 new members a week, and they simply can’t stop nurses deserting their ship and coming across to our organisation, which happens to be cheaper and a more effective union, so you can understand why they see us as such a threat,” he said.
QNMU ‘overcharging nurses for years’
The NPAQ says it offers the same representation and legal and industrial protections for Queensland nurses, but for a fraction of the cost.
“In many cases, our fees are 50 per cent cheaper than those currently being charged by the QNMU – they have been getting away with overcharging nurses for years,” Mr McGuire claimed.
A look at the fees
A look at current fees show:
A full-time Registered Nurse pays the QNMU $696 a year in fees, compared with $345 to the NPAQ.
A part-time Registered Nurse pays the QNMU $522 annually, compared with $237 to the NPAQ.
QNMU money goes to political organisations
Mr McGuire also claimed that a large proportion of money paid by members to the QNMU is donated to political organisations.
“Like everyone, nurses have a range of political points of view, and we are offering a political free space no matter which party they support,” he said.
“We can guarantee that not one cent of our members’ money is given to any political party – it is used exclusively to benefit those we represent.”
It is unclear whether further bargaining will take place with Bolton Clarke, as negotiations have officially ended, with a vote due on a new deal scheduled later this month.
Ms Booth acknowledged there was a lengthy delay in hearing the case, and invited the NPAQ to make another application for the Commission to order all parties back to the bargaining table.
“Everyone deserves a choice, nurses deserve a choice, and nobody should have a monopoly on representing workers’ rights” Mr McGuire said.
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