Australian public mental health workers take work stoppage action
After participating in limited work stoppages in the past three months, public mental health workers in the Australian state of Victoria are due to stop statewide work on May 26 due to their pay and their poor conditions.
They will meet in Melbourne and march past parliament in support of an overdue Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA), having not taken industrial action since 2016.
They are looking for a 4% annual increase over the term of a four-year agreement, an immediate and one-time salary increase to align them with other health workers, recognition of current skills and qualifications, and other improvements in staff. conditions.
Health workers around the world must support their fight. The Socialist Equality Party is warning that the Health and Community Services Union (HACSU), which covers these workers, is seeking to “let off steam” and push through the demands of the Labor government of Prime Minister Daniel Andrews.
For months, workers, including nurses, auxiliary health workers, patient service assistants and administrative staff, interrupted work for two hours, banned certain documents, refused to work during unpaid breaks, and outside normal working hours, and imposed bans on non-clinical tasks.
They clash with the Victorian Hospital Industry Association (VHIA), the industry body representing the Andrews government, which has falsely claimed to be committed to fixing the broken mental health system in Victoria.
Health workers around the world are under pressure to act on conditions and wages. Mental health workers in Western Australia emerged from a children’s mental health services disaster in March caused by staff shortages. Nurses in New Zealand are set to go on strike over the Ardern Labor government wage freeze.
The mental health worker complaints log was submitted in February 2020 and has been languishing ever since. HACSU has called on the Andrews government to intervene in the negotiation process, but the government’s hand was shown in last week’s state budget, which seeks to limit public sector pay increases to 2 percent.
The government’s guaranteed annual base increase for the public sector will drop from 2% to 1.5%, bringing it in line with the NSW National Liberal Government.
With the consumer price index forecast between 1.75% and 3.5% until mid-2023, a cap of 1.5% means a real reduction in wages.
Treasurer Tim Pallas said it was “for the general welfare of the community” and “so that we may have the capacity to provide the appropriate resources for the services the community needs”. This is the mantra of corporate governments all over the world.
The salary cap shows the real attitude of the Andrews government towards the entire public sector workforce, including teachers, nurses, paramedics and firefighters, who have worked in dangerous and expensive conditions as “essential workers” during the 2019-2020 bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic has intensified the mental health crisis to an alarming degree, adding to a 60% increase in hospital emergency room presentations since 2008.
Last July-August, during the partial lockdown in Melbourne, there was a 33% increase in the number of young people presenting to the emergency room for intentional self-harm compared to the same period in 2019. There was an increase of 10 % of number of adults presenting for intentional self-harm. – Too bad, a 19% increase for urgent and emergency mental health services, and an 11% increase in the number of people contacting inpatients or residential care programs.
There was also a 29% increase in mental health support over the phone, and clinical mental health services saw an increase in referrals from people who had not had access to their services for five years.
While politicians, Labor and Liberals alike, may applaud and praise healthcare workers for public relations purposes, their real prospects are exposed by the low wages and unbearable conditions in the public healthcare system.
In 2014, HACSU and the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) helped bring Andrews to the post of Prime Minister, despite his record as Minister of Health in the Brumby Labor government from 2007-2010, when he tried to eliminate nurse-patient ratios.
HACSU oversaw the chronically understaffed public mental health system, with 350 vacancies through the 2018 election, in which it supported Labor Party re-election.
Since the 1990s, when mental health treatment shifted from mental hospitals to traditional hospitals, the situation has only deteriorated, as the recent Royal Commission on the Health Care System revealed. mental health, whom the government called in to deflect growing anger from staff and patients.
Over the past two years, HACSU and ANMF have engaged in a controversial demarcation dispute over the coverage of nurses working in hospital emergency “hubs” for patients with mental health crisis or crisis. drug addiction. This miserable turf war is a diversion from the burning issue: the appalling conditions all health workers face.
Adult mental health nurse Peter told the WSWS: “You cannot move around and do normal activities of daily living because you are responsible for half of the medication in the ward.
“At the end of the day, you are missing out on your patient’s needs. Unfortunately, you don’t have the opportunity to have a conversation with them. A lot of the work is observation… People can hurt themselves if we don’t always watch them…
“If there is a person who is at a high risk of hurting themselves or someone else, they need ‘specialling’ – a staff member to be with them all the time. But you have a floor of 30 to 40 people and sometimes there is only one staff member. It is not realistic.
“When you come to work, tension is a fact of life in a mental health nurse. At the end of the day, you’re there to help people, but sometimes you can’t. There is a strong attrition. In nursing in general, many nurses are on burnout leave before they complete nine years.
“Then there are a lot of mental health people calling in sick… We don’t have the resources we need.”
Mental health workers face a decisive fight against the Labor government and the unions, which work hand in hand with it. Their urgent demands can only be implemented by snatching this struggle from the hands of the unions and creating grassroots committees to directly oppose the Andrews government’s cost-cutting agenda.