Academic journal article Australian Health Review

Relations with the Health Care Workforce, Industrially and Otherwise

Academic journal article Australian Health Review

Relations with the Health Care Workforce, Industrially and Otherwise

Article excerpt

IN THIS ISSUE we present three commentaries addressing the likely impact on the health care system of the industrial relations reforms proposed by the national government. Whether you believe that the reforms will control wages, increase flexibility and improve productivity, or that they are more likely to cost jobs and create an un-Australian two-tiered system of employment protection, there is no doubt of the importance of these changes.

In my view, the new workplace rules announced by Howard and Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews on Thursday represent the biggest political event since Gough Whitlam's dismissal in 1975. They will transform the way we live, work, relate to each other and do business. Hardly an Australian will be untouched.1

Although many of us believe the most turbulent times are yet to come, the past 12 months have been direction-setting for many Australian industries. The Age Discrimination Act 2004 (Cwlth) came into effect in June. In the Electrolux decision,2 the High Court placed limitations on matters that could be negotiated, on matters that could be addressed in protected industrial action, and on matters that could be included in certified agreements. Greater boundaries were set around the industrial aspects of the employee-employer relationship.

During 2004 three major banks did not reach enterprise bargaining agreements with the union and unilaterally awarded pay rises to their employees.3 Perhaps of most relevance for health care, the Commonwealth Bank worked to keep staffing level issues out of the certified agreement - to be retained as a matter for management.3

The re-election of the coalition government, now with a majority in the Senate, suggests that the proposed legislative changes that have been "bouncing between the houses for the past five years"4 will likely be enacted. Buchanan (page 264) predicts this will result in increasing inequality in access to health services, and increasing variation in the quality of care, with even more fragmentation of the system. On the other hand, Timo (page 274) suggests that the durability of state-based industrial coverage in this area may not result in much change in the aged care sector. Stanton and Bartram (page 2 70) argue that it is unlikely that the reforms will address any of the major workforce issues facing the Australian health care sector.

Two other papers discuss workforce issues: Harris and colleagues explore the decisions of trainee doctors about the location of their practices (page 278), and Liang et al speculate on the impact of reforms on senior health sector managers in NSW (page 285). …

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