WA nurses call for sick pet leave as they negotiate work agreement

The head of the nurses’ union in Western Australia says calls for days off to care for sick pets is not silly or frivolous and would be a first in Australia. The union is negotiating with the State Government after the current agreement with nurses expired at the end of June. Australian Nursing Federation WA secretary Mark Olson said they had been forced to get “creative” after the Government capped pay rises at 1.5 per cent. Mr Olson said members were not happy with the pay offer, but were more concerned about their workload. He said in the current environment, if a nurse called in sick, they were often not replaced, and knowing that, they tended not to take sick days off. “There’s no reward for that loyalty or to that commitment,” he said. The union has called for creativity in taking personal leave, and said it should be available to care for ill pets, or as bereavement leave after a pet dies. “We know that 63 per cent of households in Australia have pets, almost twice the number of households that have a child under 16,” Mr Olson said. “We’re not asking for extra leave to look after the pets, what we’re saying is that if you’ve got personal leave and you need to take time off to look after your sick pets or dying pets, you should be able to access your personal leave. “If that sounds silly and ridiculous and frivolous, we’ve got a claim that reflects the reality.” When asked if it would be acceptable to go home to look after an ill goldfish, Mr Olson said he would not be prepared to draw the line as to what constituted a good reason to use the leave. “I don’t know, it depends how attached you are to the goldfish; all I’m saying is these are the types of discussion that we need to have.” There had been speculation the ANF had been deliberately stalling negotiations ahead of the March election after the union secured a 14 per cent pay rise over three years in the lead-up to the 2013 election. “The health minster keeps promoting this notion that we’re going to drag this out to the next election; I don’t know why he gets that idea,” Mr Olson said. He said the Government formally notified the ANF about the commencement of bargaining a month ago and the ANF had responded within a week. Among the log of claims, the union will call for the abolition of annual performance appraisals of nurses, which Mr Olson said would save the Government about $10 million over three years. They also want to be able to cash out personal leave if more than a month is accrued and have nurse to patient ratios legislated. “We’ve now seen legislated ratios in Victoria, Queensland is heading down that path, NSW are looking at it… we’re not saying that we need to have legislated ratios before the election, what we’re saying is, let’s look at a mechanism, let’s have a discussion about it,” he said. Mr Olson said the ANF was not planning industrial action right before the March state election, but would not rule out industrial action altogether. Health Minister John Day said he was pleased the ANF was now engaging in wage negotiations with the Department of Health, after saying last month they had delayed engaging with the department. “Government wages policy has set pay increases at an appropriate level of 1.5 per cent per annum,” Mr Day said. “The HSUWA has recently agreed to an increase in line with this policy, meaning that since 1 July, approximately 16,000 health service workers have already benefited from this responsible approach.”

ABC News, 5 August 2016 ;http://www.abc.net.au/news/ ;