WA nurses are threatening to escalate industrial action over a pay stoush into a mass strike.
Australian Nursing Federation secretary Mark Olson said yesterday that without a pay offer from the Heath Department today, he was worried many nurses and midwives would want to walk out.
But late yesterday, director-general of health Kim Snowball maintained his hands were tied because he was unable to make a binding offer before the State election.
In the second day of hearings in the Industrial Relations Commission yesterday, the ANF called on the department to agree to a minimum pay rise of 12.75 per cent over three years, with 5 per cent paid from July 1 and no loss of conditions.
The commission gave the department until 10am today to respond to the ANF's proposal - an hour before nurses are due to meet at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre.
It acknowledged the ANF had failed to meet a recommendation on Wednesday to lift work bans and combined with a lack of any offer from the Health Department it had led to a further deterioration in industrial negotiations.
Mr Olson estimated about 300 hospital beds were out of action because of work bans that had closed one in five beds in most public hospital wards since Monday.
"I'm worried that nurses will walk out and I'm trying to stop them from doing that, but I'm not sure what will happen if I go to the meeting empty-handed," he said.
He said despite the work bans affecting bed numbers, patients had not been "arcing up" and seemed to understand the position of nurses.
Mr Snowball said the commission had asked the department to respond to the ANF's new proposal.
"But we're in something of a catch-22 in that we're not in a position to make a binding wage offer in response and of course the nurses and the ANF in particular want that offer and that's why the work bans are in place," he said.
"It can't be a binding offer because we have an election in a couple of weeks and we'll have a new government."
Mr Snowball said any escalation in industrial action would be terrible for patients.
"To take strike action would be unbelievable and I would just be flabbergasted if that were the outcome," he said.
"I remain hopeful the ANF and nurses will follow the commission's recommendation.
"We cannot sustain this in our health system and something has to change very soon."
Australian Medical Association WA president Richard Choong warned the industrial action was taking its toll on some of the most vulnerable patients, including mentally ill patients at risk of suicide presenting at emergency departments.
"They might not initially present as emergencies but if they cannot get a bed because of shortages caused by the industrial action and they take their life that would be a tragic outcome," Dr Choong said.