Home >News >Building power in 2021 — Paul Healey and Kate Marshall's letter to members

Building power in 2021 — Paul Healey and Kate Marshall's letter to members


Dear HACSU Members,

We want to start by thanking you all for your incredible work over the past twelve months. As members working on the frontlines of an ongoing pandemic, you have all played an enormous part in keeping Victorians safe.

This has arguably been one of the most testing years on record for HACSU members and the people you support. Every step of the way, HACSU members have risen to the challenges ahead of us, showing grit, determination, and compassion. You've continued to look after our state's most vulnerable — often in full PPE, working overtime, spending time away from your friends and family, and often at risk to your own health and safety.

Over the pandemic, many have labelled you "healthcare heroes" and "essential workers" — titles that, for us, you've always held. While we welcome this newfound appreciation for your critical work, our priority is ensuring that appreciation translates into better wages and conditions for the disability, mental health, and alcohol and other drugs workforces.

In 2021, your HACSU officials have continued to work tirelessly to ensure your work isn't just applauded but is reflected through enterprise bargaining agreements, policy platforms and legislation.

2021: Disability

Safety in Disability

Our 2020 Safety in Disability audit, completed by over 900 members, contributed directly to improving the amount of PPE available at worksites, implementing more robust procedures and protection for both confirmed and suspected COVID-19 cases, and developing a coordinated approach solving urgent pandemic related matters.

In 2021, our latest audit received over 1200 responses — while the pandemic was still top of mind for many members, the audit also shed light on a range of systemic issues in the sector that existed pre-pandemic. Burnout, bullying and intimidation, chronic staff shortages, and unsafe working environments are critical issues HACSU members face. Out of this audit, HACSU released a comprehensive paper on best practices for disability providers handling disciplinary procedures; this paper emphasised protecting consumers and workers and ensuring that members' mental health and wellbeing are safeguarded during what can be incredibly stressful processes.

In 2022, HACSU is launching our most extensive safety campaign ever to fight for better working conditions, safety measures for both workers and consumers, and policy shifts. These are essential across the entire sector, from small providers to national organisations.


This year, HACSU Delegates and Health and Safety Representatives have been crucial in steering the disability sector through the COVID-19 pandemic. We've seen more HSRs being elected in our disability group homes, and we're looking forward to seeing this trend continue in 2022 as we move into "COVID-normal". If you've been thinking about whether you'd like to step up and become more involved your union, 2022 is the year to become an HSR.

Roster reviews

HACSU organisers have continued to represent members through the roster review process this year. Changes to funding models have been complex for both members and providers to navigate, and members (especially delegates) have done well to make it through these processes. We continue to fight for improvements to NDIS funding models, especially as we head into a federal election in 2022.

Enterprise agreements & progressive clauses

HACSU disability support professionals voted on a range of Enterprise Agreements this year, with the union securing progressive wins never-before-seen in any Victorian agreement. Members at Cooinda won 15 days of paid Family and Domestic Violence Leave — setting the standard for other workplaces across the nation. Members at Yooralla had multiple wins, including paid pregnancy loss leave, paid pandemic leave, superannuation paid when it's earned, and pay rises above the national average. It wasn't that long ago that Yooralla disability support workers hadn't negotiated an EBA for over a decade. Now, these workers are paving the way for unionists nationally on important clauses.

These incredible wins in the not-for-profit sector have set the tone for the commencement of the bargaining of the DSEAV (Disability Services Enterprise Agreement Victoria) in 2022.

600+ jobs in disability

As part of our ongoing efforts to strengthen and grow the disability workforce, HACSU—in partnership with the Victorian Trades Hall Council and Jobs Victoria—has secured 600 new disability positions to be rolled out across the state in 2022, alongside training and development for 400 current disability support professionals. We will continue to advocate for positions to combat the staff shortages facing our members.

2021: Mental Health

It's been a busy year in mental health, with both public and private services facing increasing demands alongside ongoing staffing pressures and uncertainty due to the pandemic. Alongside our activism, our co-hosting of the Collaborative Conference was a highlight. Having spoken at the first Collab back in 2000, your State Secretary Paul Healey has seen the event go from strength to strength every year. We've been able to attend plenty of industry events, including the Social Work Forum and the Occupational Therapy Sensory Modulation Forum, which are crucial to ensuring we're hearing from workers in different areas.

Public mental health EBA

Mental health members have done an incredible job fighting for a better deal for their sector. In the face of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, ever-increasing demands for services, and chronic understaffing, members took protected action across the state to stand up for a better mental health system — HACSU was the only union that took industrial action as part of this EBA campaign. After over two years of work, members provisionally voted to move forward on a new offer in October, with protected action suspended in November.

Alongside wage increases, mental health members cemented a range of wins:

  • Our landmark claim for a mental health allowance, as called for in the Productivity Commission's Inquiry into Mental Health, was won to ensure allied health workers, administrative and clerical workers, and lived experience workforces will have their specialist skills recognised with yearly payments. Over the four-year agreement, payments will total over $7000 per worker.
  • A wage structure and qualification payment for the lived experience workforce
  • We have negotiated for an allied health structure to be developed within 6 months of the agreement
  • Annual leave equity for allied health because we know that adequate leave is vital for workers' health and wellbeing
  • Access to long service leave earlier, with leave being easier to access
  • Leave for pregnancy loss, for primary and non-primary carers — the first-ever Australian public sector agreement to have this provision
  • 4 weeks more parental leave for the primary caregiver, and 1 week more for secondary — as well as paid lactation and express breaks for when a caregiver is back at work
  • The Victorian Government has committed to introducing reproductive leave once it becomes Government policy, with HACSU's work leading the way on this.
  • Superannuation to be paid on the day that it is earned and on all parental leave, paid or unpaid. This is a huge win for members, seeing them retiring with thousands more.

These are incredible wins, and HACSU members should be proud of what they have achieved together.

However, this is by no means the end of our fight. Advocacy and lobbying continue to amplify members' voices, and we've had productive conversations with MPs from across the political spectrum. This work is shaped by HACSU members — keep an eye out in early 2022 to see how you can get involved.

Workforce strategy

On Sunday just past, Minister for Mental Health James Merlino announced a $41 million investment in the workforce. As part of the new workforce strategy, the Victorian Government has committed funding for an extra 358 full-time equivalent positions, an additional 132 graduate allied health positions, and 18 allied health clinical educator roles.

Pay parity campaign

In 2022, we will be launching a united mental health sector campaign. Without a united workforce, treated equally, we cannot build a better mental health system. Our campaign, fighting for pay parity, will launch in 2022. Alongside pay parity, we're advocating for the entire workforce to receive the newly won retention allowance. We've already seen support for this work, with Mental Health Victoria calling for pay parity for allied health in their 2022-23 state budget bids — proving that the continued advocacy of HACSU members is more critical now than ever.

Ramsay EBA

We completed bargaining on the Ramsay Health agreement in the private sector with significant improvements for members. Wins include pandemic leave, updates to compassionate leave and purchased leave, rostering improvements, stronger disciplinary protections, increased study and parental leave, wage increases totalling 10% over four years. Notably, we've secured a doubling of domestic and family violence leave to 10 paid days per annum.


Disappointingly, members at Forensicare are still knee-deep in industrial action. Severe understaffing continues to lead to fatigue and other serious health and safety concerns. After bargaining stalled, Forensicare members received an 'offer' yesterday that doesn't address key claims and continues to undervalue the workforce. We need dramatic improvements to safety, staffing, workloads and occupation violence, alongside pay and career structures. Rest assured, the fight will continue into 2022, with industrial action planned.

2021: Cross-sector

HACSU has a proud tradition of advocacy for progressive policies, bringing members' ideas from the shop floor directly to the government. This is vitally important; members across our sectors see the first-hand impact of policy changes, and members know what needs to be done. As part of this advocacy, we're proud to have put forward progressive policies in partnership with our members to improve the members' working lives and client care across the state.

HACSU members—in partnership with our leadership, policy and organising teams—have brought the following policy positions to state and federal parliaments, calling for:

  • Workforce career structures for both lived experience workforces and the allied health workforce
  • A thorough policy position on mental health and disability assessments in prisons
  • A comprehensive health response for the repeal of the public drunkenness legislation, working closely with the Victorian Ambulance Union and The Police Association of Victoria
  • Our 10-point Alcohol, Drug and Gambling Treatment Services, Harm Reduction & Mental Health Services Plan for Victoria
  • Upskilling the mental health workforce by way of sector-wide scholarships for the Graduate Certificate in Addictive Behaviours offered through Monash University — supported by Fiona Patten
  • An urgent reworking of the alcohol, other drugs, and harm reduction sector through introducing state-based multi-employer AOD agreements to solidify wages and conditions and improve recruitment and retention — as per the Royal Commission's recommendation to integrate the mental health and AOD sector.
  • Addressing issues in the private AOD sector through introducing mandatory registration and licensing of providers, a registration system for the workforce, a compliance framework guide by public sector best practices, legislation enforceable with penalties for providers who fail to meet industry standards, and an accessible reporting method for families affected by exploitative practices
  • A specialist mental health nurses and allied health cadet pilot program
  • Increasing funding to the Victorian Disability Worker Commission to speed up registrations, reports, and investigations
  • Increasing funding to the Community Visitors Program
  • The introduction of a Lived Experience Workforce in the disability sector
  • Scholarships for disability providers to ensure that staff obtain disability-specific qualifications within the first two years of appointment
  • The re-introduction of an Advanced Diploma in Disability Support
  • Development of a coordinated university, TAFE and senior high school training strategy
  • Portable Long Service Leave to be mandatory in the disability sector
  • Legislation to stop the gig economy damaging the disability sector
  • A new diploma with 12 core skills to enter the health and community services industry
  • policy for mental health in schools 

These policies were submitted to the Victorian State government as part of HACSU's 2022-23 Budget Bids

Worker-led rehab

HACSU is proud to be working closely with the Victorian Branch of the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union and the broader union movement to deliver Victoria's first worker-led rehabilitation, outpatient, and outreach service — The Crossing. The Crossing will allow working people and their families to access treatment for drugs, alcohol and gambling, and other mental health support. This service will be a workplace intervention based on the successful Foundation House model.

These calls have been echoed by Mental Health Victoria, the Australian Council of Trade Unions and others, with our budget bid supported by over 30 Victorian unions. We have been privileged to consult with Foundation House, the Victorian Alcohol & Drug Association, Odyssey House, Windana, Turning Point, Harm Reduction Victoria, Harm Reduction Australia, Self Help Addiction Resource Centre, The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, and industry leaders from across the country. We've already had support from MPs, including Paul Edbrooke; we are incredibly hopeful that the Victorian government will progress this bid immediately. This service will ensure that as many Victorians as possible have access to a free non-denominational service with the support of their employer and their trade union without fear of disciplinary action or termination.

This year, we also partnered with the Rethink Addiction Campaign who are calling for a national roadmap to uplift investment in the AOD workforce and invest in prevention, treatment, support, and harm reduction.

Housing Project

HACSU is also working closely with the AMWU and 3PE Build to explore affordable housing options in partnership with area mental health services that would have employment opportunities attached. Mental health workers, especially in community teams, have told us loud and clear that service delivery is being negatively affected by the lack of social and affordable housing, crisis accommodations, and short- and medium-term housing across Victoria. We've begun consultation on this with leading NGOs, including YSAS, Hope Street, Flat Out, The Bridge of Hope Foundation and others. We're committed to evidence-based work on this, following best practices and linking with recommendations from the Inquiry into Homelessness and the Royal Commission into Mental Health.


The HACSU Women's Committee has been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic. The 2021 Women's Forum ran online, with special guests Fiona McLeod SC, human rights barrister, and Julie Bates, organiser and advocate for sex worker rights and public health — both of whom have been awarded an Order of Australia for their work. Although many of us have experienced Zoom fatigue, running events online has provided more flexibility for members living regionally and those with caring responsibilities — we want you, as members, to be able to take part in a way that suits you.

We're looking forward to an in-person forum in 2022, but we'll be taking the lessons we've learnt about accessibility and flexibility with us.

HACSU Women have advocated industriously to build a better world for working women through political, industrial and social reform. Throughout this letter, you'll see that wins for women are everywhere — because wins for women are wins for all workers. Assistant State Secretary Kate Marshall has led the charge on Reproductive Health and Wellbeing Leave, Pregnancy Loss Leave, Gender Responsive Budgeting, and progressive reforms to superannuation and parental leave. Across this work, we've had the academic support of the University of Sydney; we've worked together to bridge the gap between academic research and real-world solutions.

In 2021, we heard a lot about women's safety at work, at home, and in society. Our development team have been delivering HSR training with a gendered violence lens, with an additional focus on increasing the participation of women as HSRs and Deputy HSRs. Sam article. HACSU has joined and taken part in many committees and governance reference groups; notably, we've been involved in the Victorian government's push to end sexual harassment in the workplace.

In 2022, HACSU will be releasing our plan for working women, which will form the basis of the 2022 Women's Conference. Watch this space!

Other advocacy

We believe a union must act industrially, politically, and socially; hence our advocacy across a broad range of topics, all of which intersect with our sectors and issues members bring to us. HACSU made quite a splash earlier this year when we appeared at the Victorian Inquiry into the Legalisation of Cannabis, calling for legalisation and using taxes to fund mental health and AOD services. Our policy on this is straightforward: we should be funding health, not crime. State Secretary Paul Healey appeared across the spectrum of print (Herald Sun, Daily Mail), radio (3AW, Joy FM, ABC), and TV (Studio Ten, 7NEWS) — not to mention creating debate online across Twitter and Reddit. We made submissions to other inquiries, including the Inquiry into Support for Older Victorians from Migrant and Refugee Backgrounds.

In the past twelve months, HACSU has had over 110 meetings with members of parliament from the Victorian Labor Party, the Liberal National Party, Reason, the Victorian Greens, the Animal Justice Party, Transport Matters, the Independents and the Justice Party. We have had a key role in creating policy positions for the Federal Labor Party Platform, the Victorian Labor Platform, and the health policies endorsed at the 2021 Australian Council of Trade Unions Congress.

2021 has been a huge year for HACSU members — tough, but with great wins. You have worked incredibly hard not only to keep Victorians safe during the pandemic, but to also push for progressive reforms within your industries. Our union’s work doesn’t just help improve our working lives but impacts the wider Victorian community and will do so for years to come. The strides we’ve made are proof that we're stronger when we act together, in union.

Next year is going to be big. It needs to be if we want to keep standing up for what matters. It's a great privilege to be able to embark on this journey of sector-wide reform with you. We're ready to keep fighting, standing side by side to build power and make real change.

In solidarity,

Paul Healey and Kate Marshall