NSW nurses and midwives are at breaking point. It could have dangerous consequences.

In New South Wales, nurses and midwives are stretched to their limit.

Struggling to pay their mortgages and rent amid the cost of living crisis, some are committing to three double shifts a week. That's a 17 hour day on the ground trying their best to give care to those who need it most.

But they're at breaking point and then just can't take it anymore.

Currently, the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) are pursuing a 15 per cent pay increase across 12 months and a host of improved working condition stipulations in order to combat the crippling healthcare sector.

In addition to a wage increase the union is lobbying for a 30 per cent penalty rate for night shifts, increasing sick leave to 20 days, 100 per cent salary packaging, an increase for midwives working in midwifery group practice, better work-life balance with consecutive rostered days off, and no changes to published rosters unless consulted.

These requests to the New South Government come as the state is suffering a debilitating knock to the nursing and midwifery areas of healthcare with a mass exodus of staff leaving due to poor pay, untenable working conditions and burnout.

President of the Tweed Valley branch of NSW Nurses and Midwives Association, Kristin Ryan-Agnew says that hospitals are haemorrhaging staff at an alarming rate.

"We have lost so many staff and really top-notch clinicians because they felt unsupported," she told Mamamia.


Having worked as a Registered Nurse and Midwife for 43 years, Ryan-Agnew says she's never seen the industry she loves go through such a catastrophic overturn. With such low wages and staff struggling to keep up with the cost of living crisis, she is seeing a complete breakdown of moral and level of care.

"Our nurses are doing horrendous hours with some doing up to three double shifts a week," she says. "Basic care is being missed because they’re just exhausted. Our fear is that mistakes are made and then they [the government] won’t support us."

This sentiment is being keenly felt right on the border of New South Wales and Queensland with many nurses and midwives in the Northern Rivers region crossing state lines opting to travel the extra mile to work in Gold Coast hospitals where the pay is higher and the working conditions are better.

Registered Nurse James Rozorio created the Facebook group 'Delay For Fair Pay' to rally his colleagues to fight for a wage increase. When he created the group a month ago he had 40 members — it now has over 14,000 nurses and midwives all sharing their stories.

"The level of anger and the level of hurt and the level of insult, I haven’t seen before from my nursing colleagues," he tells Mamamia. "People are tired. People aren’t being paid what they’re worth."

Rozario tells us that the 'Delay For Fair Pay' private Facebook group has become a hotbed of discussion with many nurses and midwives sharing anecdotes and voicing frustrations.


Rozorio and his fellow nurses and midwives said they're ready to fight for what they believe they deserve which is a 15 per cent wage increase in one year. However, after the NSWNMA put forward their request to the Minns Government, a blanket offer of a 10.5 per cent pay increase over three years for those employees working in the public sector was announced.

While many nurses and midwives weren't happy with this announcement, the NSWNMA told Mamamia the New South Wales Government's announcement wasn't a formal offer and they're ready to enter into negotiations.

"Negotiations with the government on our claim haven’t commenced yet," NSWNMA General Secretary, Shaye Candish told Mamamia in an official statement.

"We look forward to having positive and constructive discussions with the government. The NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA)’s one-year 15 per cent pay claim takes into account more than ten years of neglect and wage suppression by successive Liberal governments. It’s now up to the Labor government to fix this and pay nurses and midwives properly."

With official negotiations yet to take place all eyes are on the healthcare sector to see how this will play out over the next couple of months.

New South Wales Premier Chris Minns recently visited the newly opened Tweed Valley Hospital a $723.3 million project which has been touted as a state-of-the-art health facility for the region.


As Premier Minns toured the Tweed Valley Hospital to much fanfare, it was in stark opposition to protests earlier in the day where a number of disgruntled nurses and midwives hung banners from the carpark. Their message for the Premier was loud and clear: pay us what we're worth.

Protestors banners hung from the carpark at Tweed Valley Hospital. Image: Supplied, James Rozorio.

After an official presentation and plaque unveiling Premier Minns faced the media where Mamamia asked if he was confident a 15 per cent wage increase would be offered to nurses and midwives.


"Do nurses and midwives deserve better pay? The answer is yes," he told Mamamia.

However, when it came to meeting the NSWNMA's wage requests, he was quick to distinguish any hope of that figure being met.

"I have to be honest 15 per cent in a single year is more than we can afford right now," he said adding that it is "beyond our resources."


It's clear that many nurses and midwives are threatening to take industrial action if the 15 per cent wage increase isn't met. When Mamamia further pushed about how a strike might impact the community, he acknowledged that there is a tough road ahead to ensure a fair deal is met in order to avoid industrial action.

"Obviously we’ve got delicate union negotiations ahead of us," he told Mamamia. "I also don’t want to pretend that the nurses union or individual hard-working nurses are happy at the moment."

When we asked Registered Nurse and Facebook group 'Delay For Fair Pay' creator James Rozorio how he felt about Premier Minns dismissal of the wage increase request, his message was clear.

"If we were to get anything less than 15 per cent (wage increase) I would strongly consider quitting my New South Wales health role and moving over to Queensland," he says.

So where to from here? The next steps will see the NSWNMA sit down for negotiations with the New South Wales Government over the next month in order to try and broker a fair deal for nurses and midwives.

"I think we’re going to have to negotiate really hard," says President of the Tweed Valley branch of NSW Nurses and Midwives Association, Kristin Ryan-Agnew. "We’re going to have to fight for it."

If Premier Minns stays true to his word and is unable to deliver a 15 per cent wage increase for nurses and midwives we're hearing that staff across the state are prepared to take industrial action. How this might materialise isn't set in stone right now although many nurses and midwives Mamamia spoke to told us that they plan to shut down beds on wards, stop taking on administrative duties and refuse to work overtime.


They tell us that all of these actions will severely slow down hospital processes and hopefully send a clear message to the powers that be.

Last year the Health Services Union was able to strike a deal on behalf of New South Wales Paramedics, brokering a deal with the Minns Government to receive an average pay rise of 25 per cent over four years.

Nurses and midwives are hopefully that a similar positive outcome will transpire at the end of their wage increase campaign.

And if a fair deal can't be met we may be looking at a troubling future for the nursing and midwifery sector of an already crippled healthcare industry.

"It’s devastating seeing the deterioration in our profession," says Ryan-Agnew.

With birth trauma figures rising, staff shortages having grave effects on the level of care patients are receiving and poor mental health cited amongst healthcare workers, it's clear that this ship needs to be turned around fast.

Image: Getty, Supplied/James Rozorio.