The State government and a union have traded blows over industrial action which the government says will put patients at risk in the middle of a pandemic — but union organisers say it will not and the government’s cost-cutting agenda has left them no choice.
- Health workers have started industrial action over what a union says is a privatisation agenda
- The State Government says that will put patients at risk amid a global pandemic – something the union rejects
- Both parties are in a protracted negotiation over the action
The United Workers Union, which represents workers including hospital cleaners, orderlies, sterilisation technicians, food services staff, disability support workers and aged care workers, says it is fighting to protect its members from privatisation and job cuts.
Tensions have been rising over protracted enterprise bargaining negotiations between the state government and thousands of health workers, who have been on the front line during the COVID-19 pandemic.
An urgent South Australian Employment Tribunal meeting was held on Wednesday morning, beginning at 11:30am — half an hour before the work bans started.
The government applied for an urgent order to stop the industrial action and the outcome is yet to be finalised.
Government says action ‘disgraceful’
Treasurer and Industrial Relations Minister Rob Lucas labelled the industrial action “disgraceful”, saying it would put patients in danger.
The union insists patient safety would not be put at risk during the action, which would take place at other hospitals and not the Royal Adelaide Hospital — South Australia’s COVID-19 hospital.
“Workers continue to maintain their commitment to patient safety and protecting the health of our community, which is the reason they are taking industrial action in the first place,” the union’s Demi Pnevmatikos said.
“After 14 months of negotiations, the Marshall government is still trying to scrap commitments currently in the agreement that block privatisation and is still trying to abandon the agreement’s step-by-step process that protects workers and their communities from job cuts.
The action would involve limiting some cleaning and emptying of bins.
Health Minister Stephen Wade said the timing of the industrial action was “disturbing.”
The minister said the action would put extra pressure on the state’s hospital system, which was already stretched.
“Not only is it an issue of leaving rooms uncleaned in the middle of a pandemic but also they’re talking about withdrawing services that may well delay discharges when we’ve got busy hospitals and busy emergency departments, to delay discharges is a significant risk to patient safety.”
Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas said it was the government’s actions which were disgraceful.
“The lowest-paid workers with some of the most basic conditions are under attack from Steven Marshall and Rob Lucas, despite their extraordinary service during COVID and I think that is disgraceful.”