Melbourne-based health care professionals are putting the festive season on hold to take up a debate about pay and working conditions – especially for employees in sectors that are predominately female.
Nurses, midwives, their families, patients and supporters are taking to the streets of city and country Victoria in order to stave off a raft of reforms that the Balillieu government is hoping to pass through the state parliament.
The first rally took place yesterday (December 4) in front of The Women's and Royal Melbourne Hospital at 12 noon, as part of a campaign to improve pay and conditions.
It is one of 30 rallies that have been organised by the Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) – Victoria Branch which will take place over the next two weeks.
Plans to hold mass demonstrations were made after negotiation between the Victorian branch of the ANF and Baillieu government broke down last Friday (December 2).
After the meeting Lisa Fitzpatrick, state secretary of the ANF, told the AAP: "Nurses have decided that they're not taking the bait, which no doubt, the government and the Victorian Hospitals Association would like them to do."
The ANF has been looking to increase the number of nursing staff on shift at any given time in order to improve nurse to midwife ratios – in real terms this would mean having an extra nurse per shift.
There were also plans to ease workloads for those specialising in mental health or residential and community services, as well as an 18.5 per cent wage rise over the next three years and eight months for all nursing and midwife staff.
But the gap between what the nursing body are seeking and government expectations is causing tension levels to rise.
The state government is instead proposing a 2.5 per cent pay increase, introducing unlimited four to five hour shifts and doing away with traditional nurse to patient ratios to make way for the introduction of health assistants.
And while certain sectors of the community support the stance others may be wary about the impact industrial action can have on workplaces, but the ANF made it clear that all strikes will be held in the nurses' own time.
"They won't be taking unprotected action, which will lead them to the Federal Court," asserted Ms Fitzpatrick.
"We will be having community rallies in our lunch break."
At this point in time it is unclear whether the government and ANF will come to an agreement about pay and conditions before Christmas.
Photo credit: Vic nurses to begin protest rallies (Sky News)