Hospital staff in Mass protest over job cuts

Staff threatened with retrenchment at St Vincent's Hospital in the northern NSW city of Lismore are planning to picket Sunday Masses in their fight against job cuts of up to 50 positions.

The campaign was launched after staff were told at least nine full-time positions would be scrapped in the next two weeks - with more to follow, according to a Northern Rivers Echo report.

At a meeting on Wednesday they voted to fight the redundancies through a public campaign that would include media and protests at shopping centres and at churches during Sunday Mass.

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

Referring to earlier retrenchment controversies that followed the introduction of the new Federal industrial laws earlier this year, Mr McIntosh likened the situation to the "Cowra abattoir and Spotlight debacle all over again".

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.

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

"If this trend (of retrenchments) continues at this hospital, we're looking at some pretty drastic cuts, which we don't think are justified, and we need to stand up and fight them," Mr Seabrook told union members.

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

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

"Gloom days are ahead ... it's up to you to fight it," he said.

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.

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

St Vincent's Hospital staff vow to fight job cuts (Northern Rivers Echo, 6/10/06)
Hospital workers threaten protests outside Sunday Masses (Northern Star, 6/10/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
St Vincent's Hospital, Lismore

6 Oct 2006