Holidays and Nurse Penalty Rates!

Holidays and Nurse Penalty Rates!

Around Christmas and New Year everyone gets a bit reflective I’ve noticed. I was watching the news and there was the usual snippets of Santa in kids wards and something which cheered me, a bit about an aged care place where staff were as involved in ensuring their residents had just as a special time as the world seems to insist the kiddies have while in hospital.

It has always bugged me how much time is devoted to the children and seemingly the media has forgotten those seniors who have no one now they have outlived their families or find themselves isolated by time, economics and age. Of course a moment’s thought for the unfortunate in our society is valid at a time of rampant consumerism but I do see more and more folk taking time out to consider and contribute to the less fortunate these days. Not just the charitable organisations but families making a decision to spend time or donate. Maybe it is just those folk I am lucky enough to know but it would be nice to think that many people are moving towards a kinder and more generous approach I guess.

Anyway, I had my little moment of warm and fuzzy and then the next item on the news was “let’s consider those folk who work hard to make our Christmas so wonderful”. Then my nose was really out of joint. No argument all those identified were worthy and valuable in their work and roles, but not one mention of health staff or police and the many others in safety and protection roles other than fire brigade.

Every nurse knows they have to work “the holidays”, most accept the burden of rosters and the juggle of getting time off for special events. I have seen a fairer approach to rostering over the last few years. We old timers remember the days when it just wasn’t negotiable and years went by before we had a whole Christmas day off. For quite a lot of us in spite of our obligatory whinging, we actually enjoyed the experience and camaraderie and different atmosphere that the wards had.

So I took it personally that this bit of news filler fluff did not even recognise the thousands of nurses who were on the job and of course all those other service staff who don’t really get a choice to work. There are many especially in hospitality working without the double or triple pay rates that soothed the pain. It is often stated that Australia has too many public holidays and for business the cost of penalty rates is a burden. We are told that it puts us in a less powerful economic position and given our multicultural society the traditional holidays are no longer feasible or relevant.

As a worker who benefited from penalty rates and frequently chose to work “unsocial shifts” because it suited my own situation and thus finances I am not convinced that businesses should sacrifice workers for profits. Our world is 24 hours now, people expect access to service around the clock and many people can only find work by undertaking these unsocial hours. Fair enough, but it does seem unfair that shift workers don’t get some financial reward in the guise of penalty rates. There is a niggling sense that profit motives at the expense of workers lies behind these regular “remove the penalties” media statements.

So what about these long weekends and holidays? I have travelled and lived elsewhere and truly believe the lifestyle and culture of Australia is fantastic. People choose to come here and part of the deal is the fact historically we hold to certain traditions and our constitution is the result of our historical background. I don’t care if the premise of those holidays is not the belief system of everyone, the fact that we have opportunities to take breaks throughout the year and have industrial awards and unions which have worked to ensure workers are protected from exploitation are reflected in these established holidays and I, like pretty well everyone else like my long weekends scattered throughout the year. There are many more nursing roles that keep business hours and regular shifts today but there are always going to be many nurses who work shifts. They like anyone who undertake jobs that have the potential for family disruption, missing events and opportunities should be rewarded for that. There I have got it off my chest.



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