2018 President's Report

Thursday 06 Dec 2018

2018 is when I succumb to temptation and call this a state of the union report.

In the public sector we’ve moved through EBA negotiations ring-fenced by Government wages policy due to a budget under extreme pressure.  We know it is not sustainable in future rounds to have wages limited to $1,000 or 1.5% (whichever is greater) whilst costs of living increase.  On a more positive note, many private sector agreements delivered more favourable outcomes which is pleasing given that they generally lag in comparison to public sector rates.

The public sector EBA also delivered other improvements to conditions of employment including a reduction to the number of our colleagues languishing on insecure contracts and two important consultation measures designed to ensure members are able to speak directly to the system manager and to health services management on issues of common concern.  These consultative committees will be established in 2019 and provide an important voice for members.

The report on union membership is mixed.  The HSU has continued to grow at the state level and nationally.  Nationally the union grew 19.8% between 2003 and 2017.  This sounds good but does not reflect workforce growth in the health, welfare, aged care and disability sectors and there is still a lot of work needed to meet our target 8% per annum growth rate.  Health care and social assistance is predicted to be one of the top three growth industries so there is great potential.

There are very real questions on the sustainability of health systems and society more broadly in responding to this level of growth and we await the report of the Sustainable Health Review with interest.  This level of change drives innovation and impacts on jobs.

Major consultancy firms and futurists make a living in promoting solutions to economic and labour market changes. We’ve seen the results of unfettered workforce changes even if they may not affect many of us protected by union agreements.  People in our community are however affected and it is a social justice issue that should concern us all.  Union members everywhere are fighting to redefine quality jobs and to counteract the one sided ‘flexibility’ of sham contracting, the rise of ‘permanent casuals’, wages and superannuation theft, wages suppression, and the shrinking labour share of GDP that is paid to workers in wages, salaries and superannuation and to highlight the inequity of major companies that pay no taxes.

The ACTU Change the Rules campaign is critical in rebalancing employment contracts and restoring union capacity to effectively represent the work rights of employees.  We cannot assume that work rights and quality wages are a norm – they have to be protected and promoted.  Those most disadvantaged in labour markets had early protections from the Harvester judgement in 1907. Harvester is no longer sufficient to avoid the reality that has emerged of a whole segment of our community that has become the working poor.  For a society we all want to live in - we need to ensure the dignity of a living wage not a minimum wage.  Has anyone noticed longer opening times or prices coming down due to the elimination of penalty rates?  The justifications for removal of rights, conditions and wages are given easily but seldom if ever evident in reality.

Change is coming – the silver tsunami is upon us and health, aged care and disability sectors will struggle to cope without effective management of the challenges this brings. Our challenge is to engage with the changes that impact in our world of work and create jobs that sustain our members as well as the health system.

The HSUWA and nationally are in good order and are working with members to respond to these changes.  On your behalf I’d like to thank Dan and Chris and the whole team for their work for us over the last year.

Credit is also due to your representatives on the Committee of Management who continue to provide scrutiny and good governance.  Thanks to my fellow Committee members on behalf of members.

Finally a note from the New England Journal of Medicine - one of the top medical journals in the world.  It was pleasing this year to see union values of community and collective action advocated to combat burnout. “When we recognize ourselves not as individual actors each isolated in an exam room, but as a collective joined in common cause, we start to feel less alone”. 

That is the essence of joining your union and a useful idea to take to Christmas and the new year as you join with family and friends in celebrating 2018 and looking forward to 2019.  I hope the festive season and the year ahead are productive and happy times for you all.

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