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QEII Staff win Yossi Berger Safety Award

January 25, 2023

A health and safety campaign that saw overworked AWU members at Brisbane’s Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Hospital drag management to the negotiation table after just a week of work bans has won 2022’s Yossi Berger Safety Award.

A year later workloads have begun to ease, management is working to fix a problem it could no longer ignore, and workers have shown how acting collectively, remaining staunch and standing up for their rights can force an employer to recognise its duty of care.

AWU Organiser Kelsey Hills began representing about 135 hospital Operations Services staff – porters, cleaners, operating-theatre assistants and food-service officers – in February.

“Every time I visited the guys they were saying how much overtime they were doing and how exhausted they were,” Kelsey says.

“Doctors and nurses all got praised during COVID but not the Operational Services workers.

“Having worked through COVID they were fatigued, they’d had to wear masks, and the anxiety and stress was unbelievable.

“This was coupled with unrealistic shift expectations, and having holidays cancelled, because the hospital was so short-staffed.”

Kelsey says that she, along with QEII delegates, then-Queensland Branch Secretary Steve Baker, and Executive Officer Mark Raguse, helped members draft and pass a resolution to ban work where management were not backfilled roles, citing safety concerns under the Workplace Health and Safety Act.

Kelsey, QE2 delegate Ros McCall, and AWU QLD Branch Secretary Stacey Schinnerl

The situation came down to making sure the members were looking after themselves, and had the energy to look after and transport patients safely.

“We asked the members what they wanted to do to make this better, and they all agreed they shouldn’t have to do the work of others on top of their own,” she says.

“We notified management, and they were a bit hesitant and gave a bit of push back, but in the end they realised we were doing this for the greater good.

“And when all our members stuck together we found it to be really effective, as the hospital ended up hiring more staff.”

Stacey, former QLD Branch Secretary Steve Baker, QEII Delegate Steven Simmons, and National Secretary Daniel Walton celebrating the win at the 2022 National Conference

Delegate Steven Simmons, a hospital theatre assistant, says the work bans resulted in more staff, spurred on by the union encouraged members to put in more workload forms.

“Not backfilling was a safety issue for patients and staff, and that was the only way to make management listen,” Steven says. “Not line managers in theatre or Operations Services, but the management above.

“If they don’t see a risk management or workload form they don’t think there is a problem.”

Steven says the campaign was purely a health and safety matter, with the problem worsened by overworked people being injured on the job and then not replaced.

“If someone was sick, management wouldn’t cover them and everyone else had to take up the slack.

“They weren’t even phoning people to come in on overtime shifts to cover missing staff, as they were trying to save money.”

Steven says management took a while to come on board.

“They accused us of bullying them!” he says. “But what we are supposed to do? We are supposed to defend our members and speak up for them.”

Steven says the situation is different now, with management now actively recruiting, and he and other staff being trained up to help school new workers as they come on board.

There has also been a big turnaround in workers’ attitudes to unionism.

“When I started no one in theatre was in the union and they were getting walked on,” Steven says.

“I told them management could only do that because they were not in a union.

“I told them: ‘Join, I’ll be your delegate, and we can stand up for our rights.’ Everyone joined.”


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