2021 was another difficult year as the COVID-19 pandemic raged on, with closed state borders and lock downs. We know it’s been a difficult year for many members too.
Throughout the year the Union had to enforce our agreements with employers who thought the pandemic meant that your rights at work were somehow suspended.
The Union had to regularly push back against a range of efforts to make changes that were clearly not related to dealing with the pandemic, which conflicted with Department advice that only pandemic related changes were to be made.
The Union continued to bargain for a new Public Sector agreement, which we started in 2020. Sadly, we only received an offer once we were forced to pursue orders for a protected industrial action ballot. It was also disappointing to discover that the vast majority of our members are excluded from receiving the full hospital surge allowance, despite health workers being called heroes of the pandemic; and many of our members being in direct contact with COVID samples and patients.
However, it has been extremely pleasing to have hundreds of members attend meetings to discuss the offer we’ve received. There is no doubt that members are actively engaged and are keenly aware of the matters being negotiated on their behalf, along with the issues associated with having to negotiate for a new agreement that has taken 16 months to-date to get to this point.
While we have been negotiating a new Public Sector agreement, we also engaged in negotiations for new agreements across a range of private sector employers. There is no doubt that COVID-19 has had a significant impact on our ability to negotiate, with a number of employers agreeing to short-term agreements rolling over conditions until next year to undertake negotiations for new longer-term agreements.
A special mention to members at NextSense who have voted up a new agreement.
There are details about recent enterprise negotiations in Union Round Up. I should also mention that preparations are underway to begin negotiations for a new Community Sector agreement in 2022.
We were pleased to see in this year’s state budget funding going towards pathology, including reforms to reform public pathology in public hospitals, along with further significant funding boosts to mental health. The Union has been actively involved in discussions around reforms to public pathology and we will continue to vigorously advocate for public pathology being restored in public hospitals.
The year saw the release of the report and recommendations from the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System. The VPA has fiercely advocated for the expansion of the number of psychologists in our public health system.
Sadly, the state budget saw further funding dedicated to increasing the number of mental health nurses and counsellors rather than expanding psychologist numbers.
However, we saw an admission by the Victorian Government that there are not enough pharmacists in our public health system. This is an issue we’re addressing through our (prolonged) negotiations for a new Public Sector agreement.
It has been a massive year for the Union as we’ve vigorously advocated for the increased employment of people in all our disciplines. Ironically, understaffing in health remains the key industrial issue of the 21st century.
This year we took additional measures to ensure that we could support members by moving our entire telephone system into the cloud. It has meant that instead of relying almost entirely on email for members to raise workplace issues with us, members have been able to call us again.
We know that it can be easier to speak to someone about an issue rather than sending an email.
There are a number of reasons why people join the Union. To improve your terms and conditions at work is usually the most the important. Another reason is industrial support.
Being part of the union means knowing that if something goes wrong, you always have someone you can turn to.
If you’ve been underpaid, unfairly targeted and discriminated against, injured at work, or terminated, know that you can always turn to the Union for support.
In particular, we have been able to support members navigate the Fair Work Commission, Equal Opportunity Commission and the Federal Circuit Court to recover over $150,000 in 12 months associated with underpayment claims, unfair dismissal claims, general protection claims and others.
Reflecting on 2021, we’re very proud of the support we’ve provided members through some pretty challenging times.
If you’re working over the Christmas/New Year period, we want to thank you for ensuring that Victorians can access essential, world-class healthcare. If you’re taking annual leave, we hope that members enjoy a very well-deserved break and are able to enjoy quality time with family and friends.
I know we’re looking forward to the summer break too.
Finally, I want to thank our staff who have worked tirelessly throughout this very difficult year to ensure members’ rights at work were upheld, advocating for better employment conditions and more staff; and kept negotiating for better enterprise agreements.