Nursing, midwifery and the QNU – where we’ve come from
Nurses and midwives have a long and proud history of organisation on what can be broadly categorised as industrial, professional, social and environmental issues.
The courage, commitment and foresight demonstrated by women in the nursing profession; the extraordinary social, political, industrial and economic pressures which have impacted upon nurses’ and midwives’ living standards and working conditions; and the changing status of nursing and midwifery within both the community and the health industry all represent important parts of our history and our current context.
Many of the current barriers to progress on nurses’ employment conditions and their role in the health system do have a historical premise and become more understandable when they are seen as either a reaction to, or a continuation of, the past.
Nursing unionism has developed into a strong and vibrant force with a proud history and a clear political vision for the future industrial and professional needs of nursing.
Below is a very brief historical outline of the development of nursing unionism in Queensland.
The Australasian Trained Nurses Association (ATNA) was formed in Sydney by nurses and medical practitioners. The majority of the executive positions were held by male medical practitioners. The ATNA’s concerns were with professional issues relating to education and standards of practice. There were stringent membership requirements relating to length of education, moral character and competency. Final examinations for nurses in education were conducted by the ATNA. Also in this year a Midwifery Nurses Auxiliary Branch was formed for nurses who completed six months midwifery education.
[In 1899, the ATNA had a total of 224 members: of these, 174 were nurses and 50 were doctors. By 1905, the total membership in Australia had expanded considerably to 1389; 1015 of these were general nurses, 249 midwifery nurses and 125 medical practitioners. In 1902 the annual subscription fee was 10 shillings and sixpence for general nurses, 5 shillings for midwifery nurses and one guinea for doctors.]
|1901||The Victorian Trained Nurses Association was formed. In 1904 this became the Royal Victorian Trained Nurses Association (RVTNA).|
Royal Brisbane Hospital worked to open an ATNA Branch in Queensland.
ATNA published a journal titled Australasian Nurses Journal.
|1904||ATNA Queensland Branch was formed by a meeting of 22 doctors and 70 nurses as a consequence of dissatisfaction with some nursing practices, and to exert greater control over the employment of untrained nurses. Its aims were professional and educational—there were no industrial objects. Its State Council consisted of seven medical doctors and fourteen nurses. (Nurses could hold only two executive positions: Joint Vice-President and Joint Hon. Secretary.)|
|1905||South Australian Branch of ATNA was formed.|
|1907||Western Australian Branch of ATNA was formed.|
|1908||Tasmanian Branch of ATNA formed.|
|1912||Queensland was the first state to gain government registration for nurses. The Health Act covered the registration of all midwives, nurses and physiotherapists until 1928 when the Nurses Registration Act was passed. When the Bill to establish the Health Act was first introduced in Parliament the ATNA was successful in having the Bill amended and as a consequence a five member Queensland Nurses Registration Board, including two medical practitioners or nurses nominated by ATNA, was established. From 1912, final examinations were conducted by the board rather than by ATNA.|
In Queensland ATNA entered the industrial arena in the legal sense when it was registered as a union of employees. A rival organisation, the Queensland Nurses’ Association (QNA), was formed by nurses in Brisbane hospitals with a membership of 221 nurses. QNA lodged a claim with the Industrial Commission seeking increased salaries, a 48 hour week, payment for overtime and work on statutory holidays. ATNA opposed the claim. An award was granted providing standard hours and wages. However nurses were denied the 48 hour week (introduced by the Industrial Arbitration Act of 1916), and instead the award provided for 112 hours per fortnight (56 hours per week) on the basis of the nature of the work, the unavailability of trained staff and the cost of additional staff and accommodation. In his judgment for the first nurses’ award in 1921 T W McCawley, President of the Court of Industrial Arbitration, Queensland, said that:
The Industrial Arbitration Act of 1916 requires the Court to establish a forty-eight hour week in industries, unless where it can be shown that paramount public importance otherwise requires. It cannot be doubted that the sick ... would be very greatly inconvenienced if the Court were now ... to require all hospitals to establish a forty-eight hour week.
An editorial of the Medical Journal of Australia described the QNA as a misguided body of foolish virgins. It said that while nurses needed protection from exploitative employment practices, they should not be free to conduct their own affairs.
The ATNA in five states, and the Victorian Trained Nurses Association, established a Federal Council known as the Australian Nursing Federation (ANF).
An amendment to the Industrial Arbitration Act introduced the standard 44 hour week.
|1925||QNA successfully claimed an 88 hour fortnight (44 hour week) granted by the Commission as an Award entitlement. The ATNA and many of its members were opposed to the reduction in hours, in view of the impact on education and on patients.|
|1928||The Nurses’ and Masseurs’ Registration Board was set up with all nurses on a register maintained by the ATNA accepted for registration.|
The ATNA Federal Council voted that minimum hours should be 96 per fortnight (48 per week).
Employers successfully appealed the 1925 Award decision.
|1931||Hours were increased to 96 per fortnight (48 per week), salaries reduced by five to ten pounds per annum and annual leave reduced by one week.|
|1932||An amendment to the Industrial Arbitration Act reintroduced a standard 44 hour week. Certain occupations (domestic servants and seamen) were excluded, and the court agreed with the ATNA that nurses should also be excluded. Hours for hospital domestic staff were reduced to 40 per week—nurses continued to work 96 hours per fortnight (48 per week).|
|1934||The RVTNA was registered under the Companies Act as the Royal Victorian College of Nursing.|
The Federal Council of the reconstituted ANF met. ANF Branches were to make an effort to obtain members, and hospitals were to be approached asking for preference to be given to members of the ANF. The federal body affiliated with the International Council of Nurses (ICN).
Shortly after the outbreak of World War II, the ICN and member associations went into recess for the duration of the war.
Eunice Paten was the first nurse to be elected President of the ANF Queensland Branch.
The ATNA successfully applied to the Queensland Industrial Court for salary increases—the first increase, apart from basic wage increases, since 1921. (Nurses were leaving the profession in large numbers for more highly paid employment and attracting new recruits had become difficult.)
A majority vote to exclude nursing assistants from the new federal body caused a split in the ranks of nursing unions. The Australian United Nurses’ Association (AUNA) was formed, covering all nurses. AUNA was registered in the Commonwealth Arbitration Court and successfully made application for an award covering nurses in repatriation hospitals.
The ANF was still in existence due to its affiliation with the International Council of Nurses, with Registered Nurse members only. It did not amalgamate with AUNA which in 1953 became ANF Employees’ Section (ANFES). The NSW Nurses’ Association did not unite with AUNA.
State legislation made all awards conform with the 40-hour week.
|1949||The nursing organisations signed a Memorandum and Articles of Association for the College of Nursing Australia.|
|1954||Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II approved the use of the Royal prefix. The title then became the “Royal Australian Nursing Federation”. From this year onwards, ATNA State Branches (except NSW) altered their own title.|
|1956||The ATNA Queensland Branch changed its name to Royal Australian Nursing Federation.|
|1959||The National Education Commission was formed and undertook a project on “the wastage of nurses”.|
|1961||The College of Nursing Australia established a Branch in Queensland. RANF organised a national biennial conference.|
|1969||Following a lengthy political campaign by RANF Queensland Branch for an improvement in nurse education, the Minister for Health announced that the general nursing course would be reduced from four to three years with lectures in employers’ time instead of in the nurses’ own time.|
|1970||The state government gazetted a new Schedule of Study to provide an increase in the minimum hours of lectures to be received by student nurses from 148 to 840.|
|1971||The newly-integrated RANF came into existence with state Branches, for example RANF Queensland Branch union of Employees. July of this year also saw the launch of the Australian Nurses Journal.|
|1976||Two individual legal entities were recognised—the RANF Queensland Branch and the RANF Queensland Branch union of Employees. Proposed elections for both lapsed.|
As a result of the 1981/82 Council ballot, two separate Councils were elected—one for the RANF Queensland Branch union of Employees and one for the RANF Queensland Branch (of the Federal body), thus bringing about the physical separation of both organisations.
In November of this year, the RANF Queensland Branch union of Employees had changed its name to the Queensland Nurses’ Union of Employees (QNU), and continued alone.
|1983||The Queensland Nurses’ Union had jurisdiction in state award areas; the RANF Queensland Branch had jurisdiction in federal award areas.|
ANF Federal Council voted for removal of the no strike clause from its rules.
Federal government announced support for transfer of pre-registration nurse education to higher education institutions by 1993.
|1985||The QNU affiliated with the Trades & Labour Council of Queensland, now known as Queensland Council of unions (QCU).|
|1986||The Australian Industrial Relations Commission arbitrated on an ACTU claim that all workers covered by an Award should be provided with 3% super (that is 3% of their wage).|
|1988||The Royal prefix was dropped from the RANF.|
|1989||ANF and QNU harmonised—this was not a true amalgamation.|
QNU Career Structure and 38 hour week.
Strong Branch, union Representative and Activist structures established and supported in the early 1990s.
Improvements to wages, penalty rates and working conditions – for example the base hourly rate for QH RN Level 1 top pay point in 1982 was $7.55 and in 2007 was $29.05—an increase of 285%.
The Federal Labor Government Introduced the Superannuation Guarantee (SG), following a refusal by the AIRC to increase the level of contributions under awards. This increased superannuation from 3% to its current level of 9%.
Activist recognition and union encouragement – EB4.
|1993||Hospital-based education finished in Queensland; all nurses university-trained from this point on.|
|1994||Working Nation statement which provided funds for education.|
Queensland introduces Workplace Health& Safety Act.
The first round of public sector EB.
Living Wage claim by the ACTU.
Workplace Relations Act.
The last hospital to stop wearing nursing veils in Queensland was St Andrew’s in Toowoomba.
Howard government introduces its first round of changes to industrial relations legislation, mirrored in the Borbidge government legislation in 1997 limiting award matters to 20 and changing the no-disadvantage test for collective agreements.
Launch of the No lifting by 2000 campaign.
Howard government passes the Aged Care Act 1997. It provides a significantly different funding arrangement in aged care removing the requirement to spend specifically on care. This results in substantial reductions in nursing hours in the aged care industry.
|1998||QNU applies to the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission for specific staffing ratios and better classification structure in the Aged Care Award. Strongly opposed by employers.|
Employers apply for the making of the The Retirement, Residential and Community Care Award – State. Ultimately defeated by QNU and other health unions.
Zero Tolerance to Violence campaign launched.
|2000||QNU makes written submissions and appearances in the Pay Equity Inquiry conducted by the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC) arguing that nursing staff are undervalued historically because the workforce is predominantly female.|
QNU success in bringing in application for better classification structure in Aged Care Award. Unsuccessful in getting staffing ratios into award. Further two years until all of Commission decision is implemented.
QNU commissions first study into work/life balance in Queensland Nursing.
First independent research of QNU members (Your work, your time, your life) conducted by Professor Desley Hegney, USQ Research.
Senate Inquiry into nursing results in the publication of Report on the Inquiry into Nursing - The patient profession: Time for action. Federal government responds to this report three years later. QNU put in detailed submission to Senate inquiries.
Queensland Health EB5 campaign—statewide industrial action culminating in a rally of nurses outside state parliament. Queensland Health then took the dispute into arbitration before a full bench of the QIRC.
Nurses. Worth looking after. (NWLA) campaign launched.
Public sector nurses win an entitlement to a qualification allowance, an enforceable workloads management clause, as well as other improvements.
Social Charter for Nursing in Queensland developed and agreed by QNU and QNC.
Award review process leads to the consolidation and updating of all Queensland nursing awards.
Your work, your time, your life research is again undertaken by Professor Desley Hegney, USQ.
Queensland government instigates a Commission of Inquiry (Morris and Davis Commissions) The Queensland Health Systems Review: Final Report September 2005 (Forster Review) as a result of abuses in Bundaberg Hospital. QNU takes active role in ensuring all issues are explored and real answers are found. The QNU provided detailed submissions to both inquiries.
12 weeks paid maternity leave introduced.
ACTU introduces the Your Rights at Work campaign in response to federal government plans to attack worker rights.
WorkChoices legislation passed into law.
Let’s talk nursing sub-campaign of NWLA commenced.
Queensland Health employees move back from the federal system to the state system after the enactment of WorkChoices.
Nurses’ EB6 supported by public sector nurses with significant wage increases and, for the first time, an entitlement to Professional Development Leave and payment of costs.
Your rights at work campaign continues with a focus on 2007 federal election.
Let’s talk nursing continues.
EB negotiations in private sector—90 agreements operating with employers increasingly looking to attack the nursing classification structure and right to have a union collective agreement.
Wages gap widening.
Your work, your time, your life research is again undertaken by Professor Desley Hegney—now working at UQ.
The QNU launches its Nurses. For you. For life. campaign aimed at addressing the significant nursing and midwifery shortages in Queensland.
Increasing problems are identified in the aged care sector – particularly with nurses’ wages up to $300 per week less than nurses in the public sector.
The QNU and Queensland Health commence negotiations for the EB7 agreement in October.
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