After two years of bargaining, the Victorian Government and the Victorian Hospitals' Industrial Association (VHIA) has presented an insulting offer to mental health workers at Forensicare.
The offer was presented after Health and Community Services Union members at Forensicare took industrial stop work action on December 7, calling for immediate action on understaffing, occupational violence and ongoing OHS issues. These workers are today calling on Minister for Mental Health, James Merlino, to seek urgent action from the VHIA and the Victorian Government.
The proposed offer ignores claims the workforce has said are necessary to improve the system. It doesn’t recognise constantly dangerous nature of their work, undervalues admin staff, segments workers into a two-tier workforce, and doesn’t fix issues stopping recruitment and retention.
Victoria’s other public mental health workers received an offer for their EBA a few months ago, despite both negotiations commencing at the same time. Forensic mental health workers have now gone two years without a pay rise.
The government has made several announcements on mental health in the past week, including a new women’s mental health service and a new workforce strategy. HACSU has welcomed these announcements which address key issues surrounding beds and workforce development.
However, these new announcements do not fix current issues on the ground. Forensicare workers have been reporting understaffing and serious issues with both safety and morale for years, but the Victorian Government has continued to drag out negotiations. An already tough job has been made more challenging, with full PPE requirements, a reliance on overtime, and increasing rates of burnout taking a toll. Already chronic staff shortages have only worsened during the pandemic with multiple COVID-19 cases and exposures leading to furloughing of staff.
Lack of capacity at Forensicare is a well-established issue. In August, The Age quoted Victorian Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Hollingworth regarding a man held in prison for months waiting for treatment: “Unfortunately, and perhaps not surprisingly given the pressure on beds at Thomas Embling hospital...there isn’t actually a bed available”.
Quotes attributable to HACSU State Secretary, Paul Healey
“Forensic mental health workers have been on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic for nearly two years now. For these essential workers to be presented with this disgraceful offer only two days before Christmas is a slap in the face.”
“Without these workers, these is no forensic mental health system. Without them, too many would be sitting in prison without the mental health support they desperately need.”
“The Victorian Government needs to take action. Paying our members their agreed pay rises, settling the Forensicare Enterprise Agreement, and making major announcements can be done at the same time. There is no point promising a brighter future if today’s grim conditions are forcing people to exit the sector”
“These workers are approaching their third Christmas without a pay rise. This is no way to treat any worker, especially those who earlier this year were being praised as ‘healthcare heroes’”
Media Contact: Stephanie Thuesen, 0436 363 612, firstname.lastname@example.org