St Vincents Hospitalstaff vow to fight job cuts

Staff at St Vincents Hospital facing retrenchment yesterday launched a campaign to fight any job cuts after they were told at least nine full-time positions would be scrapped in the next two weeks with more to follow.

Health Services Union (HSU) North Coast organiser, Ken McIntosh, informed a meeting of about 50 members yesterday about the job cuts, which equates to half the workforce from four departments.

Further redundancies would follow across the board, Mr McIntosh said, as management wanted to complete its planned restructure by the end of the month.

Hospital board chairman Frank Hannigan and new chief executive Bob Walsh issued a statement last week saying the restructure was necessary to keep the hospital viable but offered little detail as to what it would involve.

The announcement sent shockwaves through hospital staff, who continue to work not knowing if the axe will fall on them in the next few weeks.

Yesterday, further details on the planned redundancies were revealed after Mr McIntosh and HSU sub-branch president Chris Seabrook met with hospital management.

Mr McIntosh said the first four departments to be affected by the cuts were patient services, executive assistants, maintenance/gardening and health information. He said other departments soon to be affected were financial services, purchasing/stores, information technology, human resources, hospitality/catering and clinical services, which includes wardsmen and porters.

The HSU, which does not represent nursing staff, has about 100 members from a total of around 500 staff at the hospital.

If this trend (of retrenchments) continues at this hospital, were looking at some pretty drastic cuts, which we dont think are justified, and we need to stand up and fight them, Mr Seabrook told the members meeting.

Mr McIntosh said hospital management was taking advantage of Prime Minister John Howards new WorkChoices legislation to get rid of staff.

This sounds like the Cowra abattoir and Spotlight debacle all over again, he said, referring to the wholesale retrenchment of permanent employees by those companies after the legislation came into force this year, and their subsequent offer to re-employ them on reduced pay and conditions.

However, he warned members that they could not take strike action as part of their campaign as they would each risk a $6000 fine under John Howards regulations and, as a union official, he faced a $30,000 fine or six months jail.

Gloom days are ahead ... its up to you to fight it, he said.

Staff are planning to take their campaign to the streets, the community, politicians and the Lismore Diocese, which owns the hospital. Rallying and taking protest placards to church on Sundays, Mr McIntosh said, was not industrial action but freedom of speech which is our right.

The union, he said, could not understand why the restructure and retrenchments were necessary as patient numbers at the hospital were on the increase.

Ive been working in the health system for 30 years. Have you ever known any Catholic organisation to go broke? he said.

An angry long-time catering staff member asked the meeting why staff had not been told much earlier that the hospital was in financial trouble.

Theres been no explanation where this has gone wrong someone must have known, the staff member said.

The sub-branch meeting unanimously passed resolutions to: oppose the cuts to staffing including retrenchment of members and their replacement by contract services; endorse an immediate campaign to gain community support in opposing the staff cuts, which may lead to the downgrading of hospital services; endorse the creation of a media campaign committee; and to have all members commit to helping the campaign when called on.

We have to get the message out there quick... and were prepared to do whatever it takes, Mr McIntosh said. Were going to give them a bloody good fight.

Union officials will again meet with hospital management next Wednesday to discuss further retrenchments while the unions media campaign committee will meet tomorrow (Friday).

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