Secretary's Report - 2017 AGM

Wednesday 17 Jan 2018

The primary objective of the Union as stated in our Rules is “To protect and further the interests of its members by any lawful means”.

This annual report will outline the activities and financial status of the union for 2017, and touch on some of the challenges facing members in 2018. It may be the nature of this type of report that that I am drawn to reflect on the issues of union membership and activism.  It may also be that the two Life Memberships awarded this year tell such good stories about the willingness to have a go for our union’s membership. 

First up, Maggie Persic.  Maggie joined the union on 23rd January 1978 and sadly had to resign for health reasons on 15th December 2016 after almost 39 years continuous membership.

Maggie commenced as a Ward Clerk at the then Royal Perth (Rehabilitation) Hospital (‘Shents’) and RPH through to 2006 and then at Fremantle Hospital until she left employment.

In her time as a member Maggie has served as a Workplace Representative and on the Union’s Committee of Management from 1990 to 1995.

Faced with a cancer diagnosis in 2005 Maggie fought the disease with the strength and determination she has shown in her representative roles and returned to work.

In late 2015 Maggie commenced sick leave without pay that extended through to December 2016.

Maggie has maintained contact with members she has worked with over the years and doesn’t hesitate to contact the union office if she thinks there is something we should know about.

Maggie continues to exercise the strength of character that has sustained her through her health issues and is a worthy recipient of (a long!) Life Membership.

The second Life Member is Ed Scull .  Ed joined the union on 4th February 1969 and retired on 23rd June 2017,  over 48 years of continuous membership.

Ed started his career as a Biomedical Engineer in RPH Medical Physics. One of the very first things Ed did on arriving in Perth from the East was to join the HSOA as we were then known and seek some assistance in reviewing his position classification. This was to be a hallmark of Ed’s service in supporting and promoting the career advancement of the medical support workforce both generally and for those staff that came to be under his direct control as Head of Department, Medical Engineering and Physics, RPH, a position he held from 2002 to 2012 when he then took on the role of Area Director, Health Technology Management, SMHS and latterly EMHS.

Ed’s service to biomedical engineering and associated professional associations was recognised in 2009 with the Order of Australia Award.

On his retirement from RPH Ed was appointed as an Emeritus Consultant.

Even when they were not in formal union roles both Maggie and Ed maintained an active interest and engagement in workplace and members issues to the real benefit of their colleagues.

It is comforting to see that spirit in the nominees for Workplace Rep of the Year , and the winner, Beryl Frazer , Admin Assistant, SCGH.  Thanks also to the 286 Workplace Reps around the State who give their time and effort to help their fellow workers. A grateful thanks from members, staff and the Committee of Management.

With Fairness in mind

The global and national conversations have turned very much to issues of inequality and fairness, and quite right too.  Australia has an increasingly unequal and lopsided income distribution. While profits soar, wages tread water.

When workers try to follow the RBA Governor’s advice and ask for a pay rise they can be locked out, employers use lengthy delaying tactics, or lose hard won rates of pay and conditions.  This is not fair, the system is too weighted in favour of the employers. For more see our Private Sector report below. 

If we want a future with fair pay rises and decent conditions then we have to change the current workplace laws, they are unfair and unjust.  Join the campaign at Change the Rules.

Private Sector

The focus for the union’s Private Sector Team continues to be the volume of Enterprise Agreements being negotiated with employers. In 2017 there were six Enterprise Agreements negotiated by the Union, formally assessed and approved by the Fair Work Commission.  These Agreements covered approximately 6400 employees providing for annual wage increases of between 1.5% and 2.2%.  The lower quantum figures over the last 12 months is reflective of the high labour market and low inflation rate - Perth CPI at 0.8%.  Under existing Enterprise Agreements wage rates over the next 12 months will increase by between 1.5% and 2.75%.  At the time of writing we have the Amaroo Care Group EBA with the Fair Work Commission for approval and the Bethesda Hospital and Hall & Prior Enterprise Agreements at ballot. 

There needs to be real change to the legal mechanism for Enterprise bargaining.  The gap between the end of the provision of a wage increase under an existing Enterprise Agreement and the first pay rise in the next Agreement is being extended by the delay in parties having to come to agreement.  There is no compulsion or mandatory arbitration provided under the Fair Work Act.  This means the real salary increases are being squeezed lower by employers continuing to delay agreement.  The need to change the rules is shown starkly in the case of Western Diagnostic Pathology.  The union initiated bargaining with WDP on the 14th October 2014 with the Agreement finally being approved by the Fair Work Commission on the 12th of January 2018 – some 3 years 3 months later.

Members might think ‘why didn’t the union initiate strike action or some other form of industrial action’?  The owners of Western Diagnostics are Primary Health who have form over East in using lockouts and legal manoeuvres to blunt effective industrial action.  Negotiate, and continue to negotiate, and they don’t come to the party on a pay increase, go on strike and they lock you out.  The rules are stacked against workers.  Even after three years of ongoing negotiations and employer initiated delays in the case of WDP, when the EBA was lodged with the Fair Work Commission Western Diagnostic Pathology failed to lodge a compliant document, that is, the Commission were worried that some of the terms would see workers worse off than the Award!  This resulted in the Agreement being delayed by a further couple of months.  

There are similar narratives emerging in the disability sector where we are starting to see a downward spiral of wages as the NDIS system is more widely introduced.  In aged care we expect more problems to emerge as the underfunding of the sector by the Commonwealth continues.  We need to change the rules. 

The Private Sector Team has five Enterprise Agreements currently under negotiation and in 2018 will initiate bargaining for new EBAs for members employed by the Ability Centre, Amana Living, Australian Air Force Association, Global Diagnostics, Juniper, Opal Specialist Aged Care, Red Cross Blood Service and VisAbility.

Public Sector

The year started with a bang as the Barnett Government were ousted and the McGowan Labor Government took the reins in March 2017.  From a ground level view it is hard to see much change yet.  The State Budget did not deliver any growth in health funding, not surprising given the state of the books. 

One of the earliest moves for the government was to announce a change to ‘wages policy’, from increases of 1.5% per annum to flat annual increases of $1, 000.  This is the government’s bargaining position for the 2018 EBA.

There has been more interest in reviews, the Service Priority Review has limited apparent impact on Health, the Sustainable Health Review is due to report in 2018.  The review of the State Industrial Relations Act is also due in 2018.

The past year has had a strong focus on secure employment.  We believe that there has been progress, and we hope to report on that early in the year.  It has been a frustrating process, but we are encouraged by the new government’s attitude and the possibility of a more system wide fix to the problem.

Issues appeared to come in ‘clusters’ in 2017. Fiona Stanley Hospital in particular had a number of matters including the Allied Health management restructuring , and the changes to out of hours Ward Clerk arrangements.

A widely felt issue has been what appears to be an increasing lack of compliance with the terms of the EBA. We wrote on this issue here and it remains a problem for many members.

The other evident theme through 2017 has been the re-emergence of Workplace Safety and Health as a major issue, from single employee issues to unsafe buildings, and clinics which have to be closed, and to unsafe drinking water at the yet to be opened Perth Children’s Hospital.

In 2018 we face another round of bargaining for a new EBA, members should look out for an EBA survey in the near future.

It will be a very difficult negotiating environment considering the state of the State’s finances. One way to improve those finances would be for the Commonwealth to cough up our fair share of the GST.  But it is not only GST where Western Australia is not getting a fair shake.

WA receives just $670 per person in Medicare benefits on average, against $866 nationally -  we receive $270 per person on average from the PBS against $332 nationally - we have just 77 GPs per 100,000 population – versus 95 as the national average and we have just 6.06 aged care beds per 1,000 compared to the national average of 8.12.

WA is also disadvantaged under the current national pricing model for healthcare, which does not accurately capture legitimate and unavoidable costs for remote and very remote hospital services in WA. 

It seems Tasmania is more remote than WA! Tasmania , which is around 20% the size of the Kimberley, attracts 2.7% remoteness loading. WA only receives 1.9%.  Maybe the loading is more related to how marginal the Federal seats are ?

Industrial Report

In 2017 the union office fielded 7, 413 phone calls, emails and web enquiries from members.  These figures do not include individual union staff calls and emails related to member issues and cases.

The focus of the industrial team is most often on individual members issues, for example, performance and disciplinary matters. I know that members dealing with problems in the workplace are often stressed and emotional, and our industrial team assist members professionally and with compassion. 

In the Public Sector the new Health Services Act has proven to be burdensome with the advent of the Public Service Appeal Board process.  This process adds an extra layer of procedural complexity for cases, and for members can be a more limited and less effective jurisdiction.  We continue to lobby for changes to the Act to remove the appeal boards in favour of using the established and well proven Industrial Commission process.

For example,  the union represented a member who was faced with allegations of misconduct.  The employer (‘decision maker’) found the allegations of misconduct to be substantiated and sought to apply disciplinary action in the form of a first written warning.  The member wanted to dispute the finding that they had behaved inappropriately to another member of staff.  The only option was to submit an application to the Public Service Appeal Board. The first stage of the process generally starts with a ‘strong recommendation’ to participate in mediation. This process took 10 months, including significant negotiation with the employer before a resolution could be reached.  If an outcome had not been achieved the member would have an extended period to get to hearing, and a decision.  A more efficient pathway would have been to undertake the process through the conference process in the Industrial Relations Commission to negotiate and reach a resolution in a more timely fashion.

In our view the PSAB is a product of a bygone age. Notwithstanding there are three people on the Board, where the employer and employee appointed representative members disagree it, in effect, results in the Commissioner deciding the matter. Referral to the PSAB denies access to the conciliation process where most matters are able to be resolved, it is unwieldy, requires additional resources for no gain and causes additional delays in reaching a resolution. The PSAB also has quite limited remedies available to it. In addition, the narrow jurisdiction of the PSAB creates an artificial barrier to dealing with complex matters.

The Private Sector continues to deliver significant challenges to members in dealing with workplace issues, even what should be simple matters such as roster changes.  In many private sector workplaces the culture and attitude of employers works against problem solving and fairness and flexibility.  Employer rigidity is supported by the Fair Work Act which helps to disempower workers and bend the system too far in favour of employers.

For example, a member had been, in our considered view, unfairly performance managed by her new manager. Nitpicking such as undermining her for every task  and unrealistic expectations such as her performing the role of a personal secretary instead of admin assistant were being used by the manager to squeeze the employee out of her job.  The member approached the union when the process commenced and she felt she was being treated unfairly by her employer. The options are limited under the Fair Work Act and we lodged an unfair dismissal claim to conciliate a better outcome for our member.  Through conciliation at the Fair Work Commission an outcome was negotiated where she was able to resign and gained 6 weeks in extra pay without the need for hearing.

While the industrial environment is difficult we do not shy away from meeting this challenge.  We have directed more resources into our private sector team, and into our industrial team to improve the support for members.  I believe that we will begin to see the fruits of this strategy in 2018.

Member Services

Over the past year 52 members have participated in our one day Workrights course. Training was also provided to 17 Reps with the Reps Core Skills Training Course. In 2018 we are adding a new course , OSH for Reps.

The union has also undertaken a major survey of members with WA Opinion Polls. This has included an online survey with over 1,200 members responding in full. Several members focus groups have also been run. Our aim is to ensure that we understand what we might be getting right, and what we can do better. We will report further in the coming months.

I urge you to Like us on Facebook and join the 1, 632 other Likes. 

We continue to offer Professional Indemnity Insurance cover to $20 million

Journey Cover Insurance has paid out some $60,000 in benefits this past year. 

In 2017 Shoprite discount buying service has saved HSUWA members $20,740.45 on a spend of $205,490.80

HESTA Super Fund – thanks to HESTA for their continuing member sponsorship and annual book scholarships

Bereavement Benefit Fund with $25,000 having been paid out to the next of kin of members who passed away during the past year

Legal Assistance – initial free consultation, free online standard will, no win no fee, discounted rates. There were 151 member referrals in 2017

Thanks to President Cheryl Hamill, and congratulations on her re-election in 2017.  Thanks also to the elected Committee of Management members for the good work, governance and support you have provided throughout the year.  A special thanks to Kim Larsen who having served 10 years as a Committee member decided not to stand for re-election. Congratulations as well to Brendan McKernan and Chris Goodsell on your re-election. We also welcome new Committee Member, Zeone Marsh. Zeone is employed by Brightwater Care and will bring a private sector member perspective to the Committee.

As always, my final word is to the staff of the Union. We welcomed Linda Rasmussen to the private sector team and Patrick Hyslop took on the EMHS portfolio in 2017. For the past few months Scott Fairclough has been working in an Industrial Officer role replaced temporarily by Katrina Robertson who works with members in SMHS. To all the staff thank you for your hard work, dedication and service to members.

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