HEALTH professionals working in Victorian public hospitals will stage a rally in Fitzroy Gardens at 12.30pm tomorrow (Tuesday 25 August) to protest against increasingly harsh working conditions and low rates of pay that are driving many of them to look elsewhere for work.

The protest will highlight an emerging crisis that has left the state’s public hospital system facing an exodus of key professional staff, with hundreds threatening to leave their jobs as they endure the lowest rates of pay in the country and ever-increasing workloads.

A survey of 1650 Victorian health professionals – who cover critical roles in hospitals ranging from physiotherapy and radiography to medical technicians – has found that a staggering 39 per cent are considering quitting the hospital system.

More than half of those thinking about leaving said they were already actively seeking work outside the health system.

And a high proportion said they believed patient care was being compromised by the increasingly unacceptable working conditions for health professionals in public hospitals.

The extraordinary findings are contained in a damning new report on pay and conditions in the hospital system released today by the Victorian Allied Health Professionals Association (VAHPA), the union that represents thousands of professionals across the state health network.

The report coincides with the launch of a major industrial campaign, in which allied health professionals and their union will seek to emulate the success of Victorian ambulance workers in raising public awareness of their plight and support for their push for decent conditions and pay. The current pay deal is due to expire at the end of this year.

The ‘Code Blue’ campaign will be launched in Fitzroy Gardens, opposite the Peter MacCallum Hospital, at 12.30pm tomorrow (Tuesday 25 August).

It comes after more than 1650 of Victoria’s 7500 allied health professionals took part in a survey in which the union sought feedback from its members on working conditions in the public health system.

Union officials were shocked by responses from health professionals, which ranged from despairing to harrowing, with widespread anger and discontent over ever-increasing workloads, low pay and the apparent indifference of public hospital management to their plight.

“The central problem is understaffing; skilled employees being pushed to the limit and we are on the cusp of a mass exodus,” said VAHPA secretary Craig McGregor.
“Staffing levels must take into account annual leave, parental leave, long-service leave. They must take into account the seemingly endless increases in demand.”
“The Code Blue campaign will be the biggest industrial campaign Victorian allied health professionals have ever been part of. The members are champing at the bit to do their part in getting things back on track.”
In addition to increasing workloads, Victorian health professionals are now the lowest paid of any state in Australia – a fact that the union’s new managers attribute in part to the discredited former HSU management.  ‘’The leadership of Health Services Union Victorian No. 3 Branch (now known as the VAHPA) failed the membership in many ways,’’ said Mr  McGregor.

‘’These failings – including poor governance and financial mismanagement – have received a great deal of media attention. What isn’t so widely publicised are the poor industrial outcomes that occurred on (Kathy) Jackson’s watch.

‘’Members could reasonably expect that a union would be able to negotiate good wages and conditions during favourable periods – when jobs are plentiful and workers in short supply,’’ Mr McGregor said.

‘’This opportunity was not seized. An examination of the relevant agreements and awards shows that the relative wages of Victoria’s public sector Allied Health Professionals’ stagnated during this period; so much so that we are now paid less than our colleagues in all other states.’’

Mr McGregor said the union believed that the Abbott government was ‘’aggressively starving public hospitals of much needed funding to put pressure on the Andrews Government. It is inappropriate in the extreme to use patients to achieve political ends.”

Eighty-nine per cent of respondents to the union’s survey expressed concern about having the lowest rates of pay in Australia for allied health professionals. In other key findings:

  • 87.6% of respondents were very concerned or extremely concerned at increasing workloads with no corresponding growth in staffing levels.
  • 75.9% agreed that increased workloads were placing quality of care at risk.
  • 67.6% felt they did not receive the respect they deserved in the workplace.
  • 92.9% felt that their workload had increased over the last two years.
  • 43.4% felt there had been a ‘large increase’ in the workload over the same period.
  • 60.7% believed that ‘students and interns (where applicable) were not receiving the training they need due to workload pressures on qualified staff’.

“These are alarming statistics considering the skilled nature of our members’ jobs,’’ Mr McGregor said. ‘’We have senior speech pathologists who are experts at working with stroke patients saying they are looking for work in the private sector due to there not being enough staff to perform the work and the comparably low rates of pay.

“We need the Victorian Government to recognise the skilled and dedicated allied health professionals who work tirelessly alongside nurses and doctors to the betterment of this state.”

  • Health professionals will launch their campaign and the ‘What is important to you at Work’ survey at the Fitzroy Gardens opposite the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in East Melbourne at 12.30pm on Tuesday 25 August.

Craig McGregor 1300 322 917