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Striking NSW healthcare workers speak out

Health Services Union (HSU) members involved in a statewide strike across New South Wales spoke to World Socialist Website journalists in Sydney and Newcastle, an industrial city north of Sydney (see: “Australia: Health worker strikes reveal growing opposition to union bureaucracy and labor”).

Tony

Tony, a caretaker at John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle, said: ‘I work with COVID every day. What happens if I catch it and what happens to my family? I am the breadwinner in my family. My wife does not work, I come to work every day. In 36 years that I have worked here, I have never seen it so bad. If I catch COVID, my family is stuffed.

Tony said the official speakers did not answer the question he posed at the rally, “Are we going to get that pay raise or not, or are you just going to play with us?” He also asked why bureaucrats didn’t mention COVID-19, “the biggest problem here.”

Referring to union officials and Labor Party figures at the rally, Tony said: ‘These people have never worked with COVID, we work with it every day. I take people from recovery bays to intensive care in operating theatres, that’s what I do. You see, some people wouldn’t believe the work needed to protect themselves and others, people cough, sneeze all the time. You have to wear your mask all the time, they can’t even get us decent masks. How much money are these companies making with all these masks? We’re on the frontlines of COVID, but we’re not earning a dime. »

Speaking on the situation facing hospital workers, Tony said: ‘I heard that about a month ago there were 150 people in hospital sick with COVID. It was right here. You fall ill and you have hardly anyone to help you or take care of you. It’s tragic. Every month, we have had many departures of workers who can’t take it anymore. They leave because they’re exhausted, they can’t take it. I know three or four people who left in the last month alone.

Tony agreed with the Socialist Equality Party’s call for unified action. He said: ‘I think we should have all come out in one big swoop, us paramedics, nurses, it’s a real fight. We should have been away today for at least 24 hours, not four hours.

“All the time I’ve worked here, this hospital has always been three-quarters full, or full. This is what we endure every day. Sometimes you are depressed because of the little support you receive. If you take a sick day, you feel terrible. You feel like you’re letting people down. I could get in trouble for saying all that. These nurses behind me they’ve been through so much COVID they’re real, real heroes they really are what they’re putting up with we’re heroes but in a different way we gotta come to work and do our work. ”

He commented on the international situation: “COVID is not just a pandemic, it is a massacre. Look at the figures, 500,000 estimated deaths in France, 300,000 estimated deaths in Great Britain, more than a million deaths in the United States… I think it will last at least another ten years.

Nancy

Nancy, a housekeeper at Sydney’s RPA Hospital with over 20 years’ experience in the healthcare sector, agreed that workers across the industry should be united. She said: “Everyone is affected. It’s not just the nurses and the doctors, it’s the little people like us, the cleaners, the porters, the orderlies. Without us, the hospital would not function.

“I believe we deserve a pay rise, rather than everything else going up, but wages staying as they are. It is becoming impossible for everyone to afford basic everyday things, let alone the luxuries of going on vacation or even just spending time with family.

Zac, 27, who has been working as a nurse for 6 months in the operating theater of John Hunter Hospital, talks about the difficulties of working with low wages: “0.3% salary increase is nothing , the cost of living is ridiculous, even around here it is really difficult to find accommodation. With this type of salary, you cannot afford to pay $500 a week in rent.

“I still have to share accommodation with someone because I can’t afford to manage. I know people in their thirties or older who live with roommates. What are you going to do when you have children and a family? You need to get a bigger place to live. There are no more savings, no more holidays, it’s sad, but that’s what we’re here for.

Zac commented on the situation in other areas of healthcare: “I worked in aged care before that, and I make more money doing that job than I did there. It was horrible. Overworked, underpaid, understaffed. The number of nurses per patient is ridiculous. It’s as if two nurses looked after five residents. They all need to be cared for, showered, dressed, taken out of bed, fed. You are on a strict schedule to do all of this. It’s just impossible half the time. It’s not enough, it ends up being patient neglect. Things are neglected because the nurses are so overworked.

“The government and some of these facilities don’t want to provide funds to get new equipment, like walkers, lifts, swings, we have to replace the old models. It eventually stops working, you can’t fix something that comes out broken.

“This situation exists in all areas. COVID just made everything more difficult. I was in a nursing home when the pandemic started, it made it much harder for the residents. Their mental health matters a lot, they’re at a point in their life where they have early stages of dementia, they don’t know what’s going on. All of a sudden, they don’t see their family for six months. It’s truly sad.

“Most people I know have had COVID. I think people are hoping that COVID will become a new flu variant or there will be herd immunity, but there’s no guarantee that will happen, we don’t know yet.

A hospital security guard who wished to remain anonymous said: “I have been here for four years. We do not have enough staff to respond to an emergency in services.

“Wherever you work there is a shortage of nurses, in all the hospitals I have been to. We are all told that the government appreciates our work, but if you mean it really needs to be backed up with some substance. We need to increase staff ratios and get a pay rise. The nurses are always busy.

Commenting on the unions’ refusal to mobilize broader sections of workers to support striking nurses, he said: “By doing this, you are essentially depriving workers of the right to have their voices heard.

Virginie (left) and Bernadette

Virginia, a support services officer at Royal North Shore Hospital, said: “I am here to support everyone in the hospital. Our nursing and medical staff, with pandemic issues, treat all patients equally. But the government does not treat us the same way. We deserve more.

“I went to the nurses’ strike last week and marched with them. We are here for all workers. Some of our colleagues are really tired and walk away from this career. They fear the virus, for themselves and their families. It’s scary.

“It would be nice if we were all united, it’s true. We’re not because of government laws. The government makes the rules, but we get hurt first. There are also casuals who are afraid of not get paid. I don’t know why they don’t call for unified action, I’m sure everyone would get on it.

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