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Members of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF Victorian Branch) and the Victorian Ambulance Union (VAU) working for the iconic Royal Flying Doctors Service (RFDS) have begun taking industrial action from today over an “unfair” two-tiered wage system proposal that would see new employees paid less.  

The joint protected industrial action comes after three years of bargaining by RFDS workers. RFDS have attempted previously to put out a non-union agreement featuring a “two-tiered wage system” that reduces the wages of new employees, which was emphatically voted down by members. Their attempts to introduce the wage system again left members feeling that taking industrial action was their only alternative.

The proposed RFDS enterprise agreement would see new registered nurse employees, working as ambulance patient transport attendants, paid up to $220 less per week than their colleagues.

The first stage of the industrial action includes nurses returning to their home branch to take their meal break, nurses stopping work to write campaign messages on patient transport vehicles, and nurses refusing to work any incidental overtime before or after their rostered shift.

According to a joint statement from the unions, RFDS workers have been on the frontline throughout the Victorian COVID-19 pandemic and carried out the bulk of work transporting positive COVID-19 patients from aged care facilities and commission flats to hospital and hotel quarantine.

Any current agreement with the RFDS is only likely to deliver wage increases in line with CPI. But despite such low increases, the unions say the RFDS is still attempting to introduce a new wage structure that reduces the wages of new employees by more than $4,000 per year compared to other workers.

“RFDS employees have repeatedly stated they would never agree to this unfair structure as it leaves future staff far worse off and promotes a race to the bottom in the patient transport industry,” the statement says.

According to the unions, RFDS is also targeting the public holidays and annual leave of part-time employees, removing the inclusion of the underpinning award, and refusing to recognise critical care registered nurses in the agreement.

ANMF (Victorian Branch) Secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick said the decision to start industrial action was not taken lightly.

“This action is a strong message to Royal Flying Doctors Service management that nurses expect their employer to value, recognise and reward the critical work they do in our metro and regional communities,” Ms Fitzpatrick said.

“All Victorians expect much better from the health services that are highly-regarded and beloved health institutions.”