The Friday 8 April edition of the Australian Financial Review included an article headed “Nurses buck unions’ long term demise”.
It explained that while overall union membership density in Australia continued to decline,union membership among nurses grew by 12% in the last two years and the AN&MF WITH 249,000 members was now the largest union in Australia.
The article pointed out that nursing in Australia is the most trusted profession according to opinion polls and is one of the few areas where women workers are able to combine a career and job security with family responsibility time out of the workplace.
Most nurses care for the people they care for whether it be in a public or private hospital or an aged care facility. They also have to work together under enormous pressure due to inadequate funding of the health system.
A few years ago nurses standing together in their union took on the Victorian Government not over a wage increase but to maintain and extend staffing levels to enable proper care of patients and safe work. In aged care nurses are working with enrolled nurses, carers and support service workers to demand better staff ratios and more regulated funding of aged care by governments.
The increase in union membership in the Health Sector is not confined to nurses and the AN&MF. Non nursing workers in hospitals and aged care facilities are joining unions in large numbers and share common goals with the nurses. Divisions between unions within the Health Sector over which union should cover carers (formerly called nurse assistants) in the aged care sector must be resolved in the interests of all workers and the general public. With more funding cuts to health and more privatisation of services in health on the agenda of capitalists who see the health sector as a new profit frontier, disunity is death both for workers and potentially for some patients.
The hundreds of thousands of mainly women workers in nursing and caring in hospitals and aged care facilities are a shining light for the millions of service sector workers who are looking for a way forward to defend their rights and working conditions.
They do indeed “hold up half the sky”.
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