The Health Services Union claims its fight for a 25 per cent wage increase for aged care workers will act as a “post-pandemic stimulus” while finally recognising the true value of frontline carers.
The HSU will on Thursday launch a landmark case in the Fair Work Commission to lift wages for the aged care workforce by 25 per cent.
If successful, the HSU says it will create an additional 59,000 jobs and provide almost 90 minutes of additional care per resident per day.
While the percentage figure may be substantial to many, the HSU argues aged care workers are just above minimum wage and paid less, in some categories, than petrol station attendants and supermarket clerks.
The starting rate for a personal carer is $21.96 per hour. Should the HSU succeed, the hourly rate for a qualified personal carer would rise from $23.09 to $28.86 an hour.
The average carer retires with $18,000 in superannuation, the HSU claimed.
HSU president Gerard Hayes said a significant increase in wages would create more stable and long-term career paths while finally acknowledging the importance of specialist carers in areas like dementia or palliative care.
“Aged care in this country has relied for too long on the goodwill of an underpaid and insecure workforce of women. It’s time for change,” Mr Hayes said.
“They provide care and support to our most vulnerable, to residents enduring episodes of sadness and at times anger.
“They should be recognised and paid for their skills. This would be a post-pandemic stimulus package.”
He said a more equitable pay rate for carers would prevent a massive leaking of the workforce, with a recent survey revealing about 40 per cent of all carers would leave the industry after just five years.
“This pay rise is an issue of justice, but it also goes to the sustainability of the system, Mr Hayes said.
“Four in 10 aged care workers intend to leave the sector within the next five years because they are at breaking point.
“A workforce crisis is coming unless we see a significant boost to pay.”
The overall cost to the federal government would be slightly more than $20 billion over the next four years to fund the wage rise.
“It’s frightening,” the union’s state secretary Paul Healey said. “This has never occurred in such a short space of time before and we are really concerned about the mental health stresses and the wellbeing of workers due to the pandemic.”
One-third of disability homes were still grappling with shortages in personal protective equipment (PPE) such as highly protective N95 face masks and goggles, the survey found, while about 60 per cent of homes did not have a clinical waste bin and almost 40 per cent were without a sanitary bin. About 40 per cent of workers said they had still not been shown how to properly fit medical masks.
“Staff at about 22 homes across the state said they did not have any PPE at all when we did the safety audit and this was late into the pandemic,” Mr Healey said. “It is disgraceful.”
Stuart Robert, Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, said there were no active cases of COVID-19 among NDIS participants or workers in Australia.
“It is a testament to the work the disability sector, with assistance from both the Australian government and the Victorian government, that has seen low infection rates of COVID-19 – in general and when compared to the broader community – in both NDIS participants and workers, particularly during the second wave of the pandemic in Victoria,” he said.
He said the government had responded early to address the mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, announcing more than $500 million for mental health and suicide prevention since January.
There have been 303 infections among NDIS participants and staff in Victoria since the beginning of the pandemic.
Victorian Advocacy League for Individuals with Disability chief executive Kevin Stone said there were no excuses for homes to lack COVID-19 safety plans, and he called on the government and NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commissioner to bear down on providers “with everything they’ve got”.
“It’s just absolutely disappointing,” he said. “It is fundamental that every house would have a COVID-safe plan. Every single organisation should be asking themselves the question: are we 100 per cent compliant? And if they’re not, then the bucks stops with the service providers here.”
Mr Stone said families would be horrified that their loved ones were being put at risk.
One eastern suburbs disability worker said he had increasing concerns about the risk of outbreaks as residents began to participate in day programs again.
“That’s when the real problems will start,” said Daniel, who wanted only his first name used because he is still employed by a disability service provider.
“At the moment they are not mixing with a whole bunch of people who don’t understand social distancing and who don’t wear masks. To me, those events are going to be the super-spreaders and if the virus gets established in disability houses, with the high level of casual workforce, it will just burn through them and residents will die.”
He said during the peak of the second wave in Victoria, casual disability workers were coming into disability accommodation from suburbs deemed hotspots for infections, and it was “just luck” the sector was spared the same fate as aged care.
Union president Deb Gunn, a Melbourne disability support worker of more than 30 years, said while infections continued to drop in Victoria, coronavirus “was not going away any time soon”.
“My real concern is that we are going to at some point have another wave of outbreaks and that [the] lack of safety plans and lack of appropriate PPE is going to leave everyone vulnerable to catching COVID,” she said.
Mr Healey said more than 600 disability homes where staff were surveyed were run by major providers including Life without Barriers, Aruma and Yorolla.
All Victorian disability support workers are required to wear a single-use surgical mask when at work.
“We have distributed over 650,000 masks and over 40,000 P2/95 respirators from our Victorian stockpile to [disability] service providers,” a Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman said.
Life without Barriers declined to comment when contacted. Aruma and Yorolla were also both contacted for comment.
This month, the disability royal commission heard evidence from 36 witnesses, many of whom were people with severe disability, speaking of the extreme stress and anxiety caused by potential exposure to the virus through contact with different casual support staff coming in on a daily basis.
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“I expect we’ll be distressed to discover the experiences that people have carried with them in silence for many years,” he said.
He also encouraged people to speak up, saying he understood it was “not easy and that often you feel so vulnerable or fearful to do so, but it is time and I give you my word and my promise that we will support you and when you talk we will act”.
The video message comes as a second union has accused Ambulance Victoria of a culture of bullying and harassment, saying it is unsafe for the mental health of staff and that examples of the damage suffered would be referred to WorkSafe as well as a human rights commission inquiry.
Jill McCabe, CEO of Professionals Australia, the union representing corporate and office staff at the ambulance service, has called on WorkSafe to start its own investigation into mental health issues and workplace risk at Ambulance Victoria.
“A number of members [are] currently undergoing psychological treatment or are on stress leave as as direct result of these behaviours … this is not about isolated cases but stems from a leadership failure,” Ms McCabe said.
The union took Ambulance Victoria to the Federal Court earlier this year alleging five employees were sacked without notice in February after they made complaints via the union about “unacceptable workplace culture and bullying and harassment” at work. It claims the workers were sacked without the consultation guaranteed by their Enterprise Bargaining Agreement. The case is set down for November.
On Wednesday it also emerged that a paramedic had attempted to take his own life outside Ambulance Victoria earlier this year having become distressed by alleged workplace bullying.
Two sources, both paramedics, told The Age that a colleague had attempted suicide in April “because no one in Ambulance Victoria or WorkSafe would take his allegations seriously and so he felt the only way to have this investigated was to go to the coroner”.
The coroner’s court investigates unexpected, unnatural or violent deaths.
“My friend often spoke about the need for a royal commission into mental health and culture in AV. While the harassment was not sexual, the conduct can only be described as bullying, victimisation and discrimination against my friend who had mental health issues as a result of being bullied in AV,” one paramedic told The Age.
“This is widespread and there [are] massive cultural issues in AV that no one wants to address,” he said.
Advanced Life Support paramedic Rasa Piggott, who sent an open letter to Ambulance Victoria chairman, Ken Lay and the board on Monday night outlining widespread workplace sex discrimination, bullying and harassment, backed up the paramedics’ claims.
Ms Piggott said she had been documenting examples for several months and her claims have been supported by more than 30 paramedics and other Ambulance Victoria staff who have spoken to The Age after it reported Ms Piggott’s letter and other claims of serious sexual harassment, victimisation and gender discrimination particularly towards mothers wishing to work part time.
Ms Piggott said her paramedic colleague had fortunately been able to recover his health and was hoping to return to work soon.
These workers already have a legal right to be safe at work and Ambulance Victoria has an obligation to ensure that they are.
ACTU president Michele O’Neil
On Tuesday morning Mr Lay and Ambulance Victoria CEO Tony Walker asked the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner, Kristen Hilton, to start an immediate independent investigation. The Health Minister, Martin Foley and Mr Walker both thanked those who blew the whistle on maltreatment of staff.
Professionals Australia also asked Commissioner Hilton to include allegations of bullying directed at its members. One of its members, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “I have been seeing a psychologist since last year which has helped but I am so traumatised it makes turning up to work each day so difficult.
“I love my job and my colleagues and working for the community, but how can you perform at your best when you know the abuse will be buried by leadership?”
ACTU president Michele O’Neil told The Age, “these workers spend every shift saving lives, they should be safe, supported and respected within Ambulance Victoria.
“It is now almost eight months since the Morrison Government received the Australian Human Rights Commission’s report of the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces – Respect@Work. The Government has not acted on a single recommendation from this report,” she said.
“We welcome the announcement of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission inquiry but immediate action needs to be taken. These workers already have a legal right to be safe at work and Ambulance Victoria has an obligation to ensure that they are.
“The same effort, energy and resources that have gone into preventing assaults on first responders should be applied to ending sexual harassment and discrimination for these workers.”
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins said, “Respect@Work, our national inquiry into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces, told us that sexual harassment is widespread and common across all industries in all locations … No industry is immune.
“It takes a great deal of courage for victims of sexual harassment to speak out, and they are often understandably fearful of the consequences of doing so. Respect@Work recommended that all sectors take industry and profession-wide action to address sexual harassment now, rather than placing the burden on individuals to come forward.
“This year, we have seen reporting of allegations of sexual harassment across a range of industries. I would encourage boards and leadership teams across Australia to recognise that we are a turning point, and to take positive action to ensure every worker has a safe and respectful workplace.”
People who have experienced discrimination or sexual harassment can contact the commission’s Inquiry Line on 1300 292 153 for more information about their rights and how they can make a complaint.
The first woman who spoke to the ABC said while she respected Qatari law she was considering legal action.
“If the other 12 women came forward with a class action, I would definitely be part of that,” she said.
The total number of women subjected to the examination, and their nationalities, have not yet been revealed.
In a statement, Hamad International Airport said the child was safe and being cared for by medical and social workers.
It said medical professionals expressed concern to officials about the health and welfare of the mother and wanted to find her, and asked that she was found before she left the airport.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is waiting for a report from Qatari authorities into the incident.
Ms Payne said Australia took the matter “extremely seriously” and had taken it up with Qatari authorities here and in Doha.
“I understand inquiries are still taking place by those people affected by this occurrence and we also understand the matter has been reported to the Australian Federal Police,” the Foreign Affairs Minister said.
“This is a grossly, grossly disturbing, offensive, concerning set of events. It is not something I have ever heard of occurring in my life, in any context, (and) we have made our views very clear to the Qatari authorities on this matter.”
Ms Payne said she was awaiting a report by Qatari authorities into what had occurred at the airport.
“Once I have seen that, we will determine next steps,” she said.
“It has been taken up directly with the ambassador here, and of course directly with authorities in Doha.”
Former Wallaby David Pocock is hanging up the boots for good, confirming he’s played his last game of professional rugby union.
David Pocock is retiring from all forms of professional rugby union
Pocock captained the Wallabies and played for the ACT Brumbies and Western Force
He will now turn his attention to conservation projects
The 32-year-old flanker was supposed to play in Japan’s Top League this season but has called time on his 15-year career.
Speaking to the ABC, Pocock said the decision wasn’t easy.
“It’s been a tough decision, but it really feels like the right time to step away from playing rugby and move onto other things,” he said.
“Author Rob Bell once said: ‘You can leave when it feels like a graduation, or you can hang in there and leave when it feels like a divorce.’
“I’m hoping it’s still going to feel like a graduation, but no doubt, like with any life transition, there’s going to be some challenges,” he said.
Pocock, regarded as one of the best openside flankers in the world, played for the ACT Brumbies and Western Force in the Super Rugby between 2006 and 2019, and the Wallabies between 2008 and 2019.
Speaking about his time in the game, he said he’s grateful to have played alongside so many amazing people, and to have had such immense support.
“As an immigrant moving to Australia it’s given me so many opportunities and I feel incredibly grateful for that.
“You really realise just what a myth individual achievement is and how much support you’ve had along the way and how much else goes into you being able to do what you do.”
The Zimbabwean-born Pocock moved to Brisbane with his family in 2002.
He debuted with the Perth-based Western Force as an 18-year-old and two years later he ran onto the field for the Wallabies.
“I was pretty pumped about the opportunity and enjoyed my time in Perth,” he said.
In 2012, he captained the Wallabies to a 3-0 series win over Wales in the June tests, just before picking up the first of a succession of knee injuries.
In 2013, after seven seasons with the Western Force, he moved over to the ACT Brumbies. But back-to-back knee reconstructions meant he only got to play five games across his first two years there.
But in 2015, Pocock returned to his best. He excelled at the Brumbies, was selected for the Wallabies and snagged a swathe of awards.
Pocock ended up playing in three World Cups, which he says were a real highlight of his career.
“They all ended in disappointment, but they are kind of the pinnacle of our game and to be able to experience that was a real thrill,” he said.
“I think when you think back its often little moments with teammates or special times with family around games that really stand out.”
Playing in some of those matches and others in his career, Pocock wore the Indigenous jersey.
The Wallabies are set to wear it again in their next test against the All Blacks on October 31.
Wallabies back Dane Haylett-Petty previously said the group would consider taking a knee at that match in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, but coach Dave Rennie says that won’t happen.
“Our focus is around the First Nations people and the Indigenous jersey, we’re not looking to make a political statement,” he said.
“We met with the leaders and the leaders met with the team. It’s a unanimous decision.”
Pocock said he’d support the team’s choice.
“I really think it’s up to them, they’re the ones out there wearing that jersey.
“I’m sure there are some good conversations about what’s going to honour that jersey the most, what’s going to hopefully unify people and raise what I think is a really important issue that’s not getting the attention at a political level in Australia.”
What’s next for David Pocock?
Pocock’s interest in conservation is well-known, so it’s no surprise that’s the direction he’s taking beyond rugby.
“I’ve been working on a project in Zimbabwe,” he said.
“It’s kind of regenerative agriculture meets community development and conservation. We’re starting to make some progress with that and hopefully head over there once things settle a bit and get stuck in.”
He’s passionate about bringing attention to climate change, and awareness to biodiversity and the rate of extinctions.
“I think regenerative agriculture offers some solutions to both of those, in terms of carbon sequestration and drawing down some of the emissions, creating healthier food, but then also creating habitat for wildlife.
“I find it really interesting and exciting and I’ve enjoyed learning more about it. It’s going to be good to have more time to dedicate to that.
“We’ve been doing a pretty rotten job of looking after the places that we live and I think that can change,” he said.
As for rugby, he’ll definitely stay connected to it both here and overseas.
“I’m an ambassador for a schoolboy rugby program in Western Australia where they’re looking to get a lot more schools playing rugby,” he said.
“Having had my first opportunity as a teenager in Perth I’m really keen to get behind that and hopefully give more kids that opportunity.”
“Then I’ve been talking to Zimbabwe rugby about ways that I can potentially give back there and they’re really keen to try and qualify for the next world cup, so we’ll see what that looks like.”
So we might be seeing David Pocock at another World Cup after all.
Qantas could not have prevented the stand-down of over 400 maintenance workers during the COVID pandemic, a court has ruled as the airline scored a legal win over a union.
The Federal Court on Tuesday ruled the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association (ALAEA) was “disingenuous” after it argued the airline should be held responsible for the decision to stand down staff after its business was hammered by border closures and movement restrictions.
Qantas was seeking a declaration that it could not have “reasonably” prevented or be held responsible for the decision to stand down 333 Qantas and 113 Jetstar maintenance engineers for one month earlier in the year.
They were stood down at the time around 20,000 other employees including pilots, cabin crew and ground staff were also stood down.
The airline argued during a hearing last month it would have faced severe financial hardship had it continued to operate with a full workforce and it would have prevented them from resuming at full capacity once the pandemic does subside.
The national carrier’s barrister Rowena Orr QC told the court that if they continued to operate, the company would have extinguished its cash reserves and gone broke in eight to 10 weeks.
Justice Geoffrey Flick ruled Qantas could not be held responsible for the downturn in travel and passenger numbers, which limited its ability to operate.
“Given the substantial downturn in passenger flights, there was no other option ‘reasonably’ open for Qantas or Jetstar to pursue.
“Neither Qantas nor Jetstar could obviously be held responsible for the downturn in international and domestic air travel and neither Qantas nor Jetstar could ‘reasonably’ have prevented the stoppage of work which occurred.”
Qantas in a statement described the legal proceedings as “vexatious” and accused the union of wasting their members’ money.
“This is a victory for common sense,” the company said.
“The union’s argument that Qantas should be flying empty planes in the middle of a pandemic was ridiculous. It would have put the future of the company and thousands of jobs at risk.
“Standing down our workers as travel demand collapsed due to factors outside of our control wasn’t a decision we took lightly. We did it because the alternative would have been to burn cash and put the whole company at risk.”
According to its enterprise agreement, the airline was able to stand down any worker who could not be usefully employed because of a stoppage that it could not reasonably prevent.
However, the union challenged the stand-down, saying it was in the airline’s control to continue flying.
ALAEA barrister Lucy Saunders said the measures were taken to “protect their viability” and “improving their profitability”, despite noting the substantial decline in customers.
However, Justice Flick said the stand down was “a necessity forced upon them”.
“It is, with respect, disingenuous to suggest that the action taken by the airlines was action within their ‘own volition’,” Justice Flick said.
Once taboo to speak about, mental health issues are now part of our everyday vernacular, but with eight Australians taking their life every day, we are far from locking in solid solutions to this complex national crisis.
We do know, however, that talking helps, so when sporting heroes – who on-field are the image of strength, determination and in male-dominated sports, virility – publicly address the dark thoughts plaguing their minds, it helps to collectively normalise the conversation.
Sporting superstar Mat Rogers has lived a great life of achievement – among the long list, he played at the top level in NRL and rugby union, has a high-profile media presence, competed on Network Ten’s Survivor and is authoring his autobiography.
But the 44-year-old Queensland Origin legend has not been immune to the effects of mental illness. In fact, he has been quoted saying he feared depression might be a family curse.
After losing his mum, Carol, to breast cancer in 2001, Rogers’ dad, Steve – an NRL legend in his own right and known as one of the greatest Cronulla Sharks players of all time – took his life in 2006.
He was just 51 years old.
Rogers had already experienced the loss of his uncle to the same fate.
For Rogers, being part of a growing group of sports stars – including the likes of NRL’s Greg Inglis and Darius Boyd and AFL’s Buddy Franklin – who are normalising mental health conversations is an important role to assume.
“I didn’t even really know what mental health was back then [in 2006], no one really talked about it and no one really understood it,” Rogers tells SMART Daily.
“Now it’s talked about so much more and understood a lot better. It’s hoped you can pick up the signs and notice something.
“It’s like when you ask someone the question and they’re not OK, they don’t even know where to start. It’s been a lightning rod for their life, that opportunity to speak to someone who is prepared to try and understand them.”
Rogers says we must get better at talking about suicide in a way it does not become the defining factor of someone’s entire life.
“For me, a lot of people they’re nervous to talk to me about my dad because of what he went and done and I hate that,” Rogers says.
“That was not my dad and not my dad’s legacy, that was a moment in time where he succumbed to the darkness of what he was feeling. I honestly think it’s held back him being recognised as the great player he was.”
While Rogers says his sporting career was a “dream run”, he understands the pressures placed on young players.
“Life’s hard. Just life itself is hard,” he says.
“I’m now in sports management and work with a lot of young kids and understand they have to deal with uncertainty and not feeling wanted. It’s a pretty big need for all of us, feeling wanted.
“You throw in celebrity on top of everyone wanting a piece of you, the looking after your family, there’s a lot of stress that goes into a player’s life.
“To have guys like Buddy Franklin and Greg Inglis to be so open about their mental battles, I reckon that is just enormous, I was so stoked to see that. It shows other players it’s OK and that they’re not crazy.
“It’s also important we’re all vigilant as individuals for the people around us. I’ve been in some pretty dark places and the last thing I’ve wanted to do was bring other people into them but I have been fortunate in having a great brother, wife and friends who have been able to recognise that and step in.”
Brain and Mind Centre at the University of Sydney co director Professor Ian Hickie – who became the inaugural Beyond Blue CEO in 2001 – says the change in attitudes to mental health, especially in the NRL has been nothing but positive.
“Working with sport is particularly important if you want to get the public talking and focusing on a particular issue,” Prof Hickie says. He says in the early 2000s Beyond Blue approached some NRL clubs to create mental health awareness, with little success.
“They didn’t really recognise the nature of the problem,” he says.
“It reflected a time and place where the level of community awareness was nothing like what it is now nor was the focus on young people.
“One of the problems is you see these incredibly fit and successful young people and make a wrong assumption that they’re fit in the head.
“I think the superhuman bit has changed. I don’t think sport is any less tough or rough than it ever was, players are still physically incredibly fit and fast but alongside that physical fitness and performance on the field, there’s a lot more attention to getting their head straight.
“We as a society have a long way to go but the fact we are on that journey now is very important.”
ANMF Victorian branch secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick went on to suggest the attack by Ms Asmar, an active player in Labor’s internal politics, was factionally motivated.
“ANMF does not usually comment on left and right politics, but on this occasion is concerned that matters unrelated to the health portfolio are at play,” Ms Fitzpatrick said.
“We remain committed to working with the Minister to continue to drive down the impact of the second wave on our members and prevent any third wave of the pandemic.”
The HWU’s letter was prompted by a meeting between Ms Mikakos and the union on Monday over a planned public private partnership for the rebuilding of Frankston Hospital.
“Leaving aside the issue of privatising non-clinical public health jobs in the middle of a pandemic and a failure to consult … Ms Mikakos failed to answer simple questions,” the letter reads.
“She had no understanding of the difference between clinical roles and non-clinical roles within a hospital, nor could she comprehend the details of the PPP proposal.
“She instead referred to scripted notes ‘thanking frontline hero health workers for their hard work’.”
Earlier this week, the Andrews Government revealed it will call for consortiums for the Frankston Hospital redevelopment, which includes an 11-storey tower housing an extra 120 beds and speciality services.
The $562 million expansion will also include two new operating theatres and 13 new emergency department beds, new oncology services and dedicated space for specialised mental health services.
Some Labor figures disagreed with the nursing union’s position, saying the attack was motivated by industrial, and not factional, issues.
The Health Workers Union is heavily active in Labor’s right wing faction and was part of former factional powerbroker Adem Somyurek’s grouping.
Ms Mikakos is part of a rival left faction.
Senior Labor left figures regard the intervention from Ms Asmar, in part, as factional pay-back in response to Mr Somyurek’s fall from power following allegations of branch stacking.
The HWU in Victoria was previously known as the Health Services Union No.1 branch but rebranded itself after a series of corruption scandals involving former leaders Kathy Jackson and Craig Thomson.
The explosive attack came after months of building tension between the minister and the union and sources close to Ms Asmar have told The Age that she had to be persuaded on several occasions over recent months to refrain from publicly attacking Ms Mikakos and the Andrews’ government over its performance in the pandemic.
Ms Asmar has been increasingly vocal in recent weeks over the performance of Ms Mikakos’ Department in providing protective gear to health workers on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic and tensions finally boiled over on Monday over the planned privatisation of Frankston Hospital.
Labor figures said on Thursday they were taken aback by the personal broadside but Mr Andrews shrugged off Ms Asmar’s attack.
“I have confidence in all my ministers,” the Premier said.
Ms Mikakos’ cabinet colleagues were privately supportive of the Health Minister with one cabinet member comparing it to calls from the Rail, Tram and Bus Union calling on Public Transport Minister Melissa Horne to resign.
But others acknowledge the timing of the attack, in the middle of a series of appearance by government ministers at the Quarantine Hotels Inquiry, was politically problematic.
‘Paying the price for her incompetence’
“Since your government’s re-election in 2018, we have seen repeated mismanagement of the Victorian health system by Minister Mikakos. All Victorians are seemingly paying the price for her incompetence,” the letter from Ms Asmar reads.
The letter lists a number of what Ms Asmar sees as Ms Mikakos’ failings, including accusations that her office was “utterly dysfunctional” and failed to consult the union before major announcements during the pandemic.
Ms Asmar, whose union represents about 16,000 hospital and aged care workers, predicts the continuation of infections in aged care facilities due to inadequate PPE supplies and protocols, a situation which she solely blames Ms Mikakos and her portfolio for.
“We are currently in September, and as long as Minister Mikakos and DHHS insist on the existing tiered guidelines to PPE in aged care, it is our view that Victoria will not achieve its infection targets to warrant a return to even stage two lockdowns. Many more deaths in Victorian aged care homes will ensue,” she writes.
The letter ends with a cutting of ties between the union and the Labor government.
“In short, Ms Mikakos through her incompetence has turned the HWU, a once supportive stakeholder of your government into an actively hostile one,” it reads.
“There is only one solution. For the good of your government, for the good of health workers I represent, and for the good of all Victorians, Ms Mikakos must go.”
But Ms Fitzpatrick said Ms Mikakos had provided “steadfast leadership” during the pandemic.
“She has provided steadfast leadership through the uncertainty of the pandemic, including in areas that are not her responsibility such as private aged care – a Commonwealth responsibility,” Ms Fitzpatrick said.
“Attending a weekly pandemic response meeting with health union leaders, Ms Mikakos has listened to the ANMF’s concerns and ensured our members’ issues were responded to and has she has intervened to get things done.
“These meetings are attended by a representative of the Health Workers Union – though not Ms Diana Asmar.”
The nurses’ union, has almost 92,000 members – nurses, midwives and aged care personal care workers – across the Victorian health and aged care sectors.
Ms Fitzpatrick said Ms Mikakos had been “a champion” for improved nurse and midwife patient ratios in Victoria’s public health services.
Call to restructure the DHHS
When contacted by The Age, Australian Medical Association Victorian president Julian Rait declined to comment on the contents of the letter, but noted that the medical lobby group had raised its concerns about the Andrews’ government’s handling of the pandemic at the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee inquiry and hotel quarantine inquiry.
“As [Ms Mikakos] is about to give evidence today it seems inappropriate to pre-empt the findings of the Coate inquiry,” Professor Rait said.
“While the AMA has provided evidence to two inquiries and been scathing in our criticism of the Department of Health and Human Services, the AMA remains focused on the relevant issues that concern our members. We wish to see a restructure of DHHS, a review of devolved governance arrangements and improved organisational processes including a more meaningful engagement of DHHS with healthcare workers including general practitioners.”
Health and Community Services Union secretary Paul Healey declined to be drawn into calls for Ms Mikakos to be sacked, however, he said he was strongly opposed to the government’s decision to rebuild the Frankston Hospital as a public-private partnership.
“It’s against Labor values to continue to privatise jobs and contract them out,” Mr Healey said.
“We saw what happened with the disability sector and we see what happens with COVID when you have a fragmented health system.
“They’re talking about secure employment, so why put people into insecure employment when they have a choice?”
The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation have been contacted for comment, while the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) said it would not be commenting on the letter or Victorian matters.
Ms Mikakos’ office has been contacted for a response, as has Ms Asmar.
Melissa Cunningham is The Age’s health reporter.
Rachael Dexter is a breaking news reporter at The Age.
Noel Towell is State Political Editor for The Age
Ben Schneiders is an investigative journalist at The Age and has reported extensively on the underpayment of wages, corruption, business, politics and the labour movement. His reporting has won a number of major honours including Walkley awards. He has been part of The Age’s investigative unit since 2015.
A NSW parliamentary inquiry has been told rates of violence against police have remained steady, even as alcohol-fuelled assaults against officers have declined.
A total of 2483 incidents of assault against police officers were recorded last year, compared with a 10-year average of 2436, according to data collected by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.
Even as the rate of incidents has remained relatively steady, the proportion of assaults on officers related to alcohol has declined, from about 70 per cent a decade ago, to less than half of the incidents recorded last year.
Police Association of NSW research officer Dr Kate Linklater told the lower house’s Committee on Law and Safety that Sydney’s lockout laws deserved credit for shrinking the role alcohol played in assaults on police officers.
However, when asked what types of assaults were “taking the place” of booze-fuelled attacks, she said the police union didn’t know.
While there hasn’t been a significant increase in violence against officers, Dr Linklater stressed any such incidents took a huge toll on first responders.
“When we do have significant assaults, and you may have seen the media around them, they’re really bad. And they result in officers being off for a long time with physical injuries,” Dr. Linklater told the inquiry.
Police Association president Tony King said it was “totally wrong” that assaults on police officers remained stable even as society overall became safer.
Mr King also pressed the members present to enact legislation that would allow police to test suspects who had bitten or spat at officers for diseases. A 2017 parliamentary committee inquiry report into violence against first responders recommended such a law.
“We’ve seen the first draft of legislation to come through, and it’s really a toothless tiger,” Mr King said.