On the Picket Line

Nurses in Australia strike for increased staffing, pay raises

By Bob Aiken
and Janet Roth
December 12, 2022

SYDNEY — Over 2,000 nurses marched here Nov. 23 demanding the New South Wales state government increase hiring in public hospitals and end its 3% cap on pay increases for its workers. There were also actions in more then 30 regional towns and hospitals. These were the nurses fourth 24-hour strike this year.

Two days later thousands of nurses walked out in the state of Western Australia over similar demands. It was their first strike in 24 years, with more than 3,000 marching in Perth, the capital.

Nurses unions in both states defied their governments’ Industrial Relations Commissions, which had ordered them to call off the actions. Nurses and midwives would not be “gagged,” said Janet Reah, secretary of the Australian Nurses Federation of Western Australia.

“I realized after our first strike I was not alone,” Melissa Mansell told the rally here. She is an emergency nurse at Sydney’s Liverpool Hospital and president of its New South Wales Nurses and Midwives’ Association branch. We are fighting for “better working conditions for ourselves, and a better health system for the people of New South Wales.”

Nurses across the state are demanding a nurse-to-patient ratio of 1-to-3 in emergency departments and maternity wards, and 1-to-4 elsewhere.

“Safe Hospitals for Rural People,” read a placard carried by Paul Haines, who works at Yass Hospital some 40 miles north of Canberra. There were “few nurses, and sometimes no doctor” at the hospital, he said. “We are often left on our own.” So-called telehealth is common, he said, with a doctor “trying to make a diagnosis” and decide on treatment “over the phone.”

“Working people need to get together and show solidarity,” said postal worker Vincent Molina, who joined the Sydney rally.