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Australian Nurses Federation told to butt out

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The AMA has successfully thwarted a bid by the Australian Nurses Federation to insert itself into pay negotiations between practice nurses and their employers.

In a significant decision, the Fair Work Commission rejected the Federation’s claim that practice nurses were low paid, and found that its bid to bargain on behalf of nurses at 682 medical practices – mostly in Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania – could force up wages without any additional public benefit.

In mid-2011 the ANF announced plans to negotiate a collective enterprise agreement for practice nurses covering about 900 practices nationwide, asking Fair Work Australia (FWA) to grant it a low-paid authorisation, allowing for a pay determination if no agreement was reached with employers.

But, in fighting the case, the Federal AMA, together with AMA Victoria and AMA Tasmania, gathered evidence showing that practice nurses were not low paid and bargained extensively with employers, and warned that collective pay negotiations with the ANF would undermine existing collaborative and flexible work arrangements, and could lead to job cuts and hiring freezes.

The Commission accepted evidence from the AMA that practice nurses were generally paid about 20 per cent above the award rate, so could not be considered low-paid.

Lawyers representing the AMA also successfully argued that pay rates for nurses in public hospitals should not be automatically extended to private practice because of differences in working environment and duties, and added that it was wrong to treat all private practices as the same, given the great breadth and variety in where they were located and what they did.

The AMA’s arguments were supported by witness statements from a significant number of doctors and practice managers worried about how the ANF claim might affect their ability to operate.

Chair of the AMA Council of General Practice Dr Brian Morton said the Commission’s decision was a significant victory for medical practices and those who worked in them.

“In rejecting the ANF application, the FWC concluded that most practice nurses were not low paid, and that the case for the authorisation was not strong,” Dr Morton said.

“It found several important factors indicated that multi-employer bargaining may be undesirable or less appropriate than genuine enterprise-based bargaining and, on that basis, it was not in the public interest to make the authorisation.”