You and your new nurses' award
Published: 7 December 2009
Last month marked two years since the Rudd government swept into power – thanks in large part to their commitment to do away with John Howard’s draconian WorkChoices laws.
True to their promise, the federal government has provided Australian workers with a balanced set of laws which are underpinned by a safety net of minimum wages and conditions.
QNU Industrial Officer Des Elder examines the industrial relations environment going forward for members not covered by an enterprise agreement.
Minimum wages and conditions
Modernised awards will commence from 1 January 2010. Along with the modern award, employees cannot receive entitlements less than the National Employment Standard (NES).
The purpose of the modern awards and NES is to provide national minimum standards for employees working in industries that fall under federal jurisdiction.
All private hospitals were transferred to the federal system under WorkChoices, as they were deemed to be constitutional corporations, and they will remain there under the new Fair Work Act 2009 arrangements.
Virtually all aged care employers and employees will also already be in the federal system but any that may have been in doubt will definitely now be referred.
However, state government nursing home employees and the state public sector (including Queensland Health) remain under Queensland laws and as such, the federal system does not apply.
If you are in the federal system and are not covered by an enterprise agreement then the Nurses’ Award 2010 will apply to you. The governing legislation for national awards is the Fair Work Act 2009.
If you are currently covered by an enterprise agreement (union collective agreement or employee collective agreement) and providing that the terms of the agreement are better than the modern award and NES, then the terms of the agreement will continue to apply until the agreement is terminated.
Who the new nurses’ award covers
The new award will cover private sector nurses who are principally engaged in nursing duties. However it does not cover registered nurses in primary or secondary schools employed under the Educational Services (Schools) General Staff Award 2010 or employees employed under the Pharmacy Industry Award 2010. Where the employer is covered by more than one award, the employee is covered by the award classification which is most appropriate to the work performed by the employee and to the environment in which the employee normally performs the work.
Wage rates and your new nurses’ award
Some wage rates under the new awards are lower than in existing awards.
The wage rates and some other conditions in the modern awards will not apply until 1 July 2010 or possibly later. The new rates of pay will be phased in. Any reductions in your take home pay will be recoverable on application to Fair Work Australia (previously the Australian Industrial Relations Commission).
Along with wage rates, some other provisions, including public holiday payments and casual loadings, will be subject to this phasing process. However, at time of going to print, the Australian Industrial Relations Commission was considering a submission from the ANF (which has been supported by the federal government) to delay phasing in Queensland and NSW in order to allow those sections of aged care that are not currently under enterprise agreements to enter into agreements that will meet as a minimum, existing industry standards.
Other conditions under the new nurses’ award
Changes for Queensland nurses covered by the new nurses modern award include:
- The uniform allowance will increase to the full-time equivalent of $324.50 per annum ($1.23 per shift or $6.24 per week, whichever is the lesser amount). The current award rate is $159.00 per annum. The uniform allowance is payable on all leave except long service leave and personal/carer’s leave beyond 21 days.
- The laundry allowance will be 32 cents per shift or $1.49 per week, whichever is the lesser amount.
- In addition to overtime rates when employees work more than one hour overtime they will receive an extra $10.00 meal allowance, and where the overtime extends beyond four hours, a further $9.00 meal allowance.
- On-call allowances will now be a percentage of the weekly "standard rate":
Monday to Friday—2.35%; Saturday —3.5%; Sunday and public holidays—4.13%.
The "standard rate" is defined as the minimum wage for a Registered nurse - level 1 pay point 1.
- A shiftworker is defined as an employee who works outside of the normal span of hours of 6 am to 6 pm, Monday to Friday. Shift penalties remain unchanged.
Rostering arrangements remain at seven days’ notice of a weekly or fortnightly roster.
- Weekend penalty rates remain unchanged at 150% for Saturday and 175% for Sunday.
- Casual loading will increase from 23% to 25% over the five year phasing in period mentioned above.
- Employees who work in excess of five hours will be entitled to an unpaid meal break of 30 minutes. Where the employee is required to remain available or on duty during a meal break the employee must be paid overtime for all time worked until the meal break is taken. Tea breaks of 2 x 10 minutes or 1 x 20 minutes remain unchanged.
- Overtime rates will change to time and one half for the first two hours from Monday to Saturday and double time thereafter; Sunday will be double time and public holidays at double time and a half.
- Part-time employees will receive overtime based on any hours worked in excess of the rostered daily ordinary hours applying to full-time employees. Employees must have at least ten hours break after overtime without loss of pay. If they do not receive the ten hour break they must receive payment at double time until such time as they do receive a ten hour break.
- Annual leave is six weeks per annum for shift workers and five weeks for all other employees. A shift worker is defined as an employee who is regularly rostered over seven days per week and regularly works on week-ends. Annual leave loading remains at 17.5%.
- Public holiday payments will be at double time for all time worked, however this will be subject to the phasing in over five years (mentioned earlier) from the previous amount payable. Full-time employees will receive payment at ordinary rates for rostered days off except where the public holiday falls on a weekend for Monday to Friday employees.
The National Employment Standard (NES)
The NES defines ten minimum standards that must apply under all modern awards and any enterprise agreement. They are:
Maximum weekly hours, requests for flexible working arrangements, parental leave and related entitlements, annual leave, personal/carer’s leave and compassionate leave, community service leave, long service leave, public holidays, notice of termination and redundancy pay and the Fair Work Information statement.
Get prepared and get active
Over the last two decades the system has become more focused on improving wages and conditions through enterprise bargaining.
That’s why it is imperative that members, who are not currently covered by enterprise agreements, campaign to have their employer enter into negotiations with the QNU to achieve decent wages and conditions through bargaining.
This is particularly important for aged care members who are affected by the transitional arrangements to the new nurses’ award.
It is not unusual that workplaces which do not have high levels of union membership don’t have enterprise agreements. Even with high levels of union membership some employers remain resistant to enterprise bargaining (particularly in aged care) or seek to make agreements that are inferior to industry benchmarks.
There is no simple response to such employer tactics other than a well organised and persistent membership who are actively involved in campaigning.
If you work for an employer that is not covered by an enterprise agreement here are some steps you may like to take:
- Encourage your colleagues to join the QNU and become involved
- Nominate yourself or others to become the local union representative and come to QNU training courses
- With the assistance of your colleagues and your QNU organiser, develop a list of claims to present to your employer;
- With the assistance of your QNU organiser, organise a petition of nursing and midwifery staff calling on your employer to enter into bargaining with the QNU.
Under the Fair Work Act employers are once again required to bargain with unions.
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