Premier Colin Barnett has agreed to meet with a union leader in a last-ditch effort to avoid a mass strike by Perth public hospital nurses angry over wages and conditions.
The Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) is pessimistic an acceptable offer will be made to avoid the industrial action, which could start within hours.
After saying little on the matter for several weeks, and only half an hour before the Health Department responds to the ANF’s wage claim, Mr Barnett said he would meet with the union’s state secretary Mark Olson if it would help avert strike action.
The ANF wants a pay rise of at least 12.75 per cent over three years, with 5 per cent paid from July 1 and no loss of conditions.
It also wants nurses to stop being forced to perform menial tasks normally done by orderlies and cleaners, and objects to big hikes in parking fees at hospitals.
Mr Olson says he does not expect an acceptable response from the Health Department at their 10am meeting.
Union members will vote on the department’s offer at a mass meeting scheduled for 11am.
“If I have to go to a member meeting an hour later at 11 o’clock empty-handed, I know that our members at that meeting will want to walk off the job today,” Mr Olson told Fairfax Radio.
Mr Barnett said no agreement could be signed during the caretaker period before the March 9 election, but it could be agreed to in principle by the department, which could make a recommendation to the Government.
“If the agreement is negotiated and it’s a reasonable one and I’m returned as premier, we would sign up to that, and that should be the end of it,” he told Fairfax Radio.
“I hope negotiations go on and don’t believe there’s any justification for industrial action.”
Regardless, nurses would receive some sort of a pay rise on July 1, Mr Barnett said.
In the meantime, Mr Olson said some surgery would be cancelled on Friday and about 300 beds had been closed but no patients would be at risk.
Beds would be opened for emergency cases, he said.
“We are flexible. We have made sure that no lives, absolutely no lives have ever been put at risk,” he said.
Members were angry and frustrated, and nurses only took industrial action when conditions were very bad, Mr Olson said.
He said the government hadn’t been listening.
“They could have taken the pressure off days ago just by cutting some of the elective surgery and doing something sensible like that.”
Commissioner Pamela Scott has asked the ANF to report back with the outcome of the vote at 4pm.