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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 4 Hansard (27 March) . . Page.. 956 ..

I move:

That the Assembly takes note of the paper.

Debate (on motion by Mr Stanhope ) adjourned to the next sitting.

Strengthening the nursing work force offer-outcomes

Ministerial statement

MR MOORE (Minister for Health, Housing and Community Services) (3.58): I ask for leave to make a ministerial statement concerning outcomes of the government strengthening the nursing work force offer.

Leave granted.

MR MOORE: Mr Deputy Speaker, last December I was enormously pleased to announce a package of initiatives to strengthen the ACT nursing work force. The offer included funding for an expansion of the previously announced scholarship support package which aims to give nursing staff opportunities to increase their speciality training. The program will continue for three years. Primarily, the offer constituted a $21 million commitment to government funding for our three health services to offer significant pay rises to all nursing staff.

Members will be aware that in each workplace a legal agreement under the federal Workplace Relations Act, known as an enterprise bargaining agreement, was in force. As a result of tight conditions during the previous round of negotiations, each of these agreements, normally for three-year terms, has a shortened length. They were due for renegotiation at various times over the next 13 months. The government offer proposed to fill out these agreements with generous pay increases through to the full three-year terms.

The package included general pay rises of 11.7 per cent, increased bonuses for night shifts and new bonuses for speciality areas with serious attraction and retention problems, together with a number of sensible workplace reforms. Greater shift flexibility, enhancing the existing 8-8-10-hour shift arrangements, and other reforms were aimed at making life easier for working nurses. There were no unpleasant trade-offs, although the proposal to require performance criteria for new appointments to level 2 status, although beneficial to some nurses, seemed threatening to others. It is now 16 weeks since the offer was announced. The results of the offer are now concluded in each workplace and it is appropriate to report on events.

It is important to recall that the existing enterprise bargaining agreements were made between the nurses industrial representatives and employers. These agreements, and any changes made to them, must be negotiated by representatives of those parties and accepted by a valid majority of staff covered by the agreement.

The role of government is to set policy for its agencies and to make decisions about the use of public money, but not to directly negotiate the terms of agreements between these parties. The parties to these agreements are the three employers, the Canberra Hospital, ACT Community Care, and Calvary Public Hospital, and in each case the staff

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