The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) has seen a 6% increase in its membership in the year to 30 June, with the number of members now surpassing 295,000.
Federal Secretary Annie Butler said the growth cemented the ANMF’s position as the country’s largest union and reflected its commitment to advocating for members across health, aged care, industrial, professional and political arenas.
The membership growth has emerged amid the global coronavirus crisis and mirrors similar rises by other leading unions.
Since 2015, the ANMF has grown an average of 3 to 3.5% per year.
Ms Butler says nurses, midwives and carers turned to the union for information and support as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded.
“When the pandemic first began and there was chaos everywhere, members turned to the ANMF as the trusted source of information for facts amid a lot of misinformation, fear and panic spreading through the community,” she says.
“For many of our members, there was also an absence of clear evidence-based information being relayed by employers and they turned to us for advice as the trusted source.”
As the pandemic took hold in Australia, Ms Butler says the ANMF’s state and territory branches quickly pivoted and adapted their usual work practices, such as communicating via social media or Zoom meetings, to ensure members continued to receive the same level of support and information in the face of social distancing restrictions.
Ms Butler says it echoes the ANMF’s strong leadership and nationally coordinated response to last summer’s devastating bushfires where the union provided timely and accurate information and support to affected members and communities.
“Our brand is strong and trusted,” Ms Butler says.
“With COVID-19 we pulled together clear, consistent information on what members needed, everything from evidence-based information for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to their rights and protections as a casual worker when we were negotiating the private/public hospital partnerships. Across the breadth of services we offer, members looked to us.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic currently grips Victoria, particularly in aged care, Ms Butler says the chronically understaffed sector must be the nation’s priority.
“What’s happening now is because of uncontrolled community transmission but the people who are at higher risk are those living in residential aged care because that sector is not adequately equipped,” she says.
Ms Butler says the ANMF’s state and territory branches are working in close collaboration with state and federal governments to ensure aged care workers and residents are supported and protected.
“We understand that aged care workers are fearful; they’re afraid,” Ms Butler says.
“They’re not just afraid of contracting the virus themselves, they’re really concerned about protecting their residents. In order for them to protect residents, we have to make sure that they’re properly protected and that means support with appropriate leave, ensuring that they maintain an income, and everything that we can possibly do to make sure they can continue to provide the best care they can to residents, because we know they are doing their very best. The aged care workforce continues to be the single thing holding the private aged care system together.”
Ms Butler says there’s never been a more critical time to join the union movement.
“We’ve just shown how incredibly important unions are through our engagement and action in delivering the best support for members and the community to protect ourselves from things like the coronavirus pandemic and moving forward it will be about building ourselves back out of the recession and economic situation we’re going into so that every Australian gets a fair go.”