Health workers stop work for the second time this month, say they can’t afford to put food on the table

Hundreds of health workers have warned of a crumbling health system as they rallied for the second time this month to push for higher salaries.

“I love my job. I love my job. But the problem here is…I can’t afford [it] more,” patient care assistant Josie Mogoum said during the sick leave meeting.

“I want to put food on the table. Some days, my family, we have to live on bread.”

Undervalued and overworked was the sentiment shared by rally-goers gathered outside the Royal Perth Hospital to lobby for the state government to change its pay policy.

Public sector salaries were capped at 2.75%, or 2.5% with a signing bonus of $1,000.

Health workers, mostly wearing masks and uniforms, said this was creating a class of “working poor”.

Industrial action has intensified for months over WA’s wage policy.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

“We are creating people who are working full time and who cannot afford to live in Western Australia,” said Kevin Sneddon, public sector coordinator for the United Workers Union.

“Our members left their homes this morning with bills pinned to an empty fridge. Bills they couldn’t pay, fridges they couldn’t fill.”

This is the second time that the unions have mobilized this month to demand a better wage policy.

A crowd with masks on stands outside a hospital, some with signs held above their heads.
The unions are demanding a wage increase that responds to the rising cost of living and inflation.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

The work stoppage meeting is the second in a plan of four industrial actions, culminating in a strike outside Parliament on August 17.

Prime Minister in pursuit of ‘post-COVID’ normality

Premier Mark McGowan was curt in his response to the work stoppage meeting, saying ‘people having a meeting, I don’t think that’s a problem’.

He acknowledged the pressures facing the hospital system across the country, but gave little hope to health workers on the front lines of the pandemic.

“At national cabinet meetings, this is the main topic of conversation: the enormous pressure on our hospitals in Australia,” he said.

The only advice he had was for “people who are close contacts or who are feeling unwell to test, and if positive, self-isolate”, and to “strongly encourage” face masks. interior.

Outside of the healthcare system, the Prime Minister encouraged a “post-COVID” life.

A man with a mask in a group of people without a mask.
Mark McGowan was the only one to wear a mask when welcoming the Leeds United football team.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

“We’re open for business. We’ve had a very, very soft landing from COVID,” he added, as he welcomed football teams arriving in WA for the Perth International Football Festival.

“We’ve gone to great lengths to promote the state to tourists, to get people to come here and work, to get sports teams to come.”

But amid Mr McGowan’s push for a life beyond the pandemic, frontline health workers continue to wade through new daily highs in hospital admissions with COVID and record patient numbers requiring intensive care.

Mr McGowan admitted the number of cases was likely severely underreported, but WA still saw 7,901 new cases today, the highest figure the state has seen in over a month.

There are 457 people hospitalized with COVID, including 22 in intensive care.

At the height of the latest Omicron wave in May, the state government said the number of hospital and intensive care admissions was the key figure to watch.

But as WA hits unprecedented heights in these areas, the government has taken a relatively hands-off approach to additional public health measures.

A man with glasses looks distressed while speaking.
United Workers Union public sector coordinator Kevin Sneddon said WA was at risk of losing its health workers.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

Mr Sneddon said the state government’s approach of ‘letting it work’ meant health workers would have to continue to face the pressures of a system that was struggling to cope.

“For the workers who are going to show up today, it’s been their life for two and a half years,” he said.

“No one here today worked from home. All of these workers arrived every day.”

The nurses’ union calls for the wearing of a mask

The Australian Federation of Nurses said the government’s public health messaging strongly encouraging mask-wearing was not enough to help the increasingly stressed hospital system.

“If you valued our nurses, what you would do as a government is take action to reduce the number of people in our hospitals who have COVID,” said Secretary of State Mark Olson.

The WA Department of Education has issued a joint letter with bodies representing Catholic and independent schools urging students to wear masks.

Schoolgirl in yellow shirt with bag on foot.
Students returned to school this week with no requirement to wear a mask. (ABC News: Cason Ho)

“We ask that your child wear a mask at school to keep our schools as safe as possible,” the letter said.

Although wearing a mask is still not mandatory, the letter does not specify that wearing a mask is optional.

Mr Olson said the refusal to put in place stricter public health measures would soon lead to more problems in hospitals.

“It’s going to be years before we clear the backlog of elective surgeries. It’s piling up,” he said.

“Simply because the government will not take [the] politically difficult decision and say to people, let’s bring back the masks, let’s bring back social distancing.”

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