A nurse among the thousands of healthcare professionals protesting for better pay and working conditions in New South Wales said taking a job as a “check out chick” was more appealing than continuing in her field under the pressure of the pandemic.
Nurses and midwives walked off the job today in their thousands across the state to demand better working conditions as the pandemic continues to push the already-burdened sector to breaking point.
One nurse told 9News she was among those considering giving up her job, insisting life would be better for her if she operated a check out at a supermarket.
“Tell you the truth…the Aldi job as the check out chick is looking better and I actually say that with reality,” the woman said.
Her story is not unique, with many others exposing the extreme overtime and discomfort suffered working in personal protective equipment (PPE) day in and day out.
“We’re often working one down in our shifts, we’re working double shifts, we’ve had staff off with COVID, staffing every day is an issue,” one nurse from Metro Health told 9News.
“Wearing the PPE it’s boiling hot, very hot, and when you don’t have enough staff, you’re running around trying to care for people … very hard,” said another.
The staggered strikes include workers from more than 150 public hospitals across both metropolitan and regional cities.
Talks between the union and Health Minister Brad Hazzard failed to reach an agreement yesterday, with the Industrial Relations Commission threatening the union with fines if it went ahead with the strike – its first strike for nearly a decade.
But the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association said they had no choice but to act, with organiser Mark Murphy saying workers were “beyond breaking point”.
“What we’re hoping for today is for the NSW government to listen to our claims for safer patient care through nurse-to-patient and midwife-to-patient ratios, to commit to a pay rise greater than 2.5 per cent, and to abandon any plans they have to change the current workers’ compensation legislation,” he told Today.
Mr Murphy said currently, in order to claim COVID-19 compensation, nurses and midwives did not have to prove they contracted the virus in the workplace.
Changes would make it “impossible” for them to prove they caught COVID-19 at work, he said.
“This pandemic has just pushed them to another level, and previous to the pandemic, there were already issues around unsafe staffing,” Mr Murphy said.
“Now, we don’t want just the government to listen; we want them to commit and we want them to implement our ongoing claims for safer staffing through nurse-to-patient and midwife-to-patient ratios.”
Despite concerns about disruptions to hospitals, the union has said life-preserving services will be maintained today.
A significant number of people from the industry are choosing to leave the field, feeling there is no prospect of improved conditions.
Two healthcare workers from the mental health unit at St George said the last year has been tough.
“It’s been a whirlwind of a year we have had a lot of people quit nursing forever… I have never seen such a mass exodus of people leaving the profession,” one said.
“People go into this because of the love they have for people and then the way that we’re bring treated they can’t go on anymore,” she added.
Mr Hazzard told 2GB’s Ben Fordham it was “disappointing” nurses decided to go ahead with their strike action, in defiance of a decision from the industrial watchdog.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet previously told Ben Fordham on 2GB the government was open to discussions about increasing the pay of nurses and midwives above the 2.5 per cent offered.
Mr Hazzard had been in talks with the union since last week, Mr Perrottet said.
“I want to provide as much support as I can to our health workers right across the state. They’ve done an amazing job in providing love care, and support to people for two years and they have worked tirelessly,” the Premier said.