The union has come out swinging at the ACT Government’s refusal to follow the lead of Victoria and provide free degrees for nurses and midwives.
Last Sunday (28 August), the state’s Premier Daniel Andrews announced the government would pay for the undergraduate degrees of more than 10,000 nursing and midwifery students.
Students would benefit from a $16,500 scholarship to cover costs. $9000 of that would be dished out during their studies and the remaining $7500 if they work in Victorian public health services for two years.
Additional scholarships will be provided for midwives and nurses to undertake specialist training.
It’s being touted by the government as a $270 million solution to staff shortages.
But on Tuesday (30 August), Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said she had a “number of concerns” about the idea and wasn’t convinced it would target the right space in the system.
“We need to recruit and retain staff now and we’re not seeing a shortage in the number of people who want to train as nurses,” she said.
“What we need to do is ensure we’re providing a safe and positive environment for those graduates to come and work in.”
Ms Stephen-Smith said the number of new graduates coming into the system was being substantially increased each year.
The Minister said she would keep an eye on whether the program impacted where people wanted to study nursing which, in turn, could affect the Territory’s workforce.
“What will make a real difference is if other jurisdictions decide to go down this route as well,” she said.
These comments have disappointed and frustrated the union.
Australian National Nursing and Midwifery (ANMF) ACT Branch Secretary Matthew Daniel described Ms Stephen-Smith as having demonstrated an “unwillingness” to support the nursing and midwifery workforce by failing to match the Victorian Government’s offer.
“The Federal Government recently reported that nursing was an occupation of critical need, so it is completely absurd to dismiss, and not match, the Victorian Government’s initiative,” he said.
“Our nurses and midwives are still suffering and continuing to work in extremely difficult conditions. The Minister needs to take immediate action to retain nurses and midwives to ensure we have enough to meet future demands.”
He said the ACT was “naive” in its approach and was now lagging behind NSW and Victoria in its efforts to improve conditions for nurses and midwives.
The NSW branch of the union has called for a similar move to be made in that state.
Earlier this year, the Territory Government rejected calls from the union for a one-off pandemic bonus payment after similar schemes were put in place in Victoria and NSW.
Ms Stephen-Smih argued one-off payments were not a good way to change culture or improve long-term pay for the workforce.
The Minister said she was committed to the enterprise bargaining that was already underway.