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COVID heightens Australian mental health workers' anger about low wages and harsh working conditions

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  • COVID heightens Australian mental health workers' anger about low wages and harsh working conditions

    The event highlighted both the discontent among health workers and the nervousness of the unions, which are struggling to keep a lid on the anger.

    Union suppresses socialist perspective at Australian mental health workers’ strike “rally”
    Eric Ludlow
    21 March 2022

    Public mental health nurses and workers in the state of Victoria struck on March 17 over a stalled enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA). The three-hour stopwork was called by the Health and Community Services Union (HACSU) to try to head off growing anger among the workers toward the state’s Labor government.

    A psychiatric nurse told the SEP team: “We’re out here today because we haven’t got our EBA conditions met. Our basic rights are not being met, as mental health workers, psychiatric nurses. We’re all pretty appalled. The mental health crisis has been a crisis for many years, even before the pandemic. So, to say that we’re ‘frontline workers’ and give us lip service over the years, but not provide us with a basic pay increase, basic rights that we’re fighting for—that’s why we’re here today.”

    The nurse said “emergency departments were already overrun,” but the COVID-19 pandemic meant “now they’re even more overrun because of the number of people coming in sick. Now psychiatric patients are not getting proper service because they come to the ED [emergency department] and they are waiting several hours. Sometimes people are waiting 12 hours just to have a psychiatric assessment.”

    She said staff-to-patient ratios were becoming unbearable, with the pandemic intensifying a crisis that already existed. Staff shortages due to COVID infections meant that “you’re constantly working under numbers.”

    Nurses were demanding “annual leave, pay, basic rights,” but “the biggest thing is to have a reasonable pay increase for what we do. The work we do doesn’t get properly recognised. Unlike politicians who have just gotten a 14 percent wage rise.”...