STRIKE ACTION: Rockhampton Hospital's maintenance workers joined ETU organiser Greg Harris (right) striking this morning to bring attention to issues affecting their shrinking workforce.
STRIKE ACTION: Rockhampton Hospital's maintenance workers joined ETU organiser Greg Harris (right) striking this morning to bring attention to issues affecting their shrinking workforce.

Maintenance staff strike over Rockhampton Hospital staffing

THERE were not a lot of maintenance workers on strike in front of the Rockhampton Hospital this morning but that is the point - there are not a lot left.

Workers from combined unions representing Queensland Health maintenance staff have begun industrial action around the state to prevent what they say is continued undermining of this critical part of Queensland's public hospital sector.

Standing in front of Rockhampton Hospital waving to vehicles honking their support, three flag-waving staff members (who did not wish to be identified) - a plumber, an apprentice electrician and an electrician - told The Morning Bulletin they were worried about their job security.

They allege the hospital's maintenance workforce has halved over the past seven years to 14 people across a range of trades, and "the hospital as being run as business, not a service".

STRIKE ACTION: Rockhampton Hospital's maintenance workers joined ETU organiser Greg Harris (right) to participate in Queensland-wide strike action.
STRIKE ACTION: Rockhampton Hospital's maintenance workers joined ETU organiser Greg Harris (right) to participate in Queensland-wide strike action.

This diminished work force was expected to service the ageing and expanding Rockhampton hospital buildings, while also attending other regional health facilities including Yeppoon, Mount Morgan and Eventide nursing home.

Over this time the men claim the administration work force has tripled.

To make up for this maintenance staff shortfall, ETU state organiser for CQ Greg Harris said contractors were being brought in and are being paid double or triple the existing staff renumeration when they should be putting on new staff.

"Now the hospital is twice the size and has half the number of people looking after it," Mr Harris said.

"The first priority that is drilled into us is patient care but you can't have that if you haven't got power and water.

"They keep contracting out work that our guys should be doing here. They just don't have the right numbers and every time they get busy, they just ring contractors and contract it all out," Mr Harris said.

One of the plumbers said more than one contracter were sometimes called for a one man job and it was "bleeding the tax system dry".

By using contractors who are not accountable for the work like staff were, one of the plumbers said contractors were "double dipping into the big money pit" for their dodgy work.

"We're accountable for our work and we go and do a job, we have to answer a 'please explain' but a contractor will come in and do the job, it buggers up, then they come back to fix it and charge Queensland Health again," the plumber said.

They say machinery has become more complex and often they have to fly in contractors from as far away as Victoria to repair it, costing hundreds of dollars per hour plus accommodation, instead of placing a greater emphasis on training existing staff for the task.

UNDER THE PUMP: This unnamed Rockhampton Hospital plumber says staff numbers have halved over the years with external contractors charging significantly more to cover the shortfall in staff.
UNDER THE PUMP: This unnamed Rockhampton Hospital plumber says staff numbers have halved over the years with external contractors charging significantly more to cover the shortfall in staff.

Another point of contention was the lack of investment in training apprentices to reduce reliance upon external staff to ensure a healthy pool of talent was available to service the local facilities.

Since April the unions have been in negotiations with QLD health regarding their Enterprise Bargaining Agreements and hoped this industrial action will bring the government to the table to negotiate in good faith.

The strike action includes paperwork and administration work bans, and rolling stoppages beginning with a 24-hour walk-off during which only emergency maintenance work will be carried out.

Electrical Trades Union Queensland state secretary Peter Ong said these electricians, carpenters, plumbers, and boilermakers were vital to the running of our health service, providing safe environment for patients and staff.

"As with any and all industrial action, the members have not taken this lightly and it is through pure frustration at Q Health's refusal to fix the ongoing issues associated with reduced job security, sham contracting and broken promises on apprentices, our members feel they are not being listened to," Mr Ong said.

STRIKE ACTION: Rockhampton Hospital's maintenance workers striking this morning in front of the hospital.
STRIKE ACTION: Rockhampton Hospital's maintenance workers striking this morning in front of the hospital.

"The government has proven incapable of fixing this mess, instead, the rorts, rip-offs, out-sourcing and shonky contracts continue. Maintenance unions drew Minister Miles's attention, in detail, to the rampant use of sham contracting arrangements at various hospitals earlier this year. In one well-documented case, the Director-General resigned that afternoon, but since then the practice has continued unchecked."

"Our message is clear, end the sham contract shame, employ Queensland apprentices in accordance with your promises and get rid of the shonky contractors who are eroding job security, costing taxpayers millions and putting patients at risk."

A Queensland Health spokesperson said every decision made centred around the health of all Queenslanders, especially patients in their care.

They said to say the hospital has doubled in size was "gross exaggeration" with a new ward block being the main expansion and other facilities upgraded on a "like-for-like basis".

"Staff working in building and maintenance services bring unique skills to our services and are an essential component to ensuring our hospitals run smoothly," the spokesperson said.

According to Queensland Health, the full-time equivalent building, engineering and maintenance services workforce at Rockhampton Hospital has increased from 24 to 25, (not including apprentices) since 2012.

They said four administration officers were currently working in the BEMS team providing essential support to the team's daily operations and ability to comply with workplace health and safety, statutory maintenance and accounting standards. This number hasn't changed since 2012.

The Rockhampton Hospital engaged two apprentices in 2018 and a total of seven over the past seven years.

While there was a workload review underway to determine future maintenance staffing needs, Rockhampton Hospital and Health Service believed they had a "sufficient number of maintenance staff to meet its current needs".

This review will also look at training more apprentices and training replacements for staff heading into retirement.

"The HHS will support training of staff in specialised equipment maintenance where the equipment is not biomedical or under a proprietor agreement," the spokesperson said.

"The majority of trade serviceable equipment is serviced by in-house trades staff."

Under the BEMS agreement, all contractors must pay their staff no less favourably than HHS BEMS staff when working on a health facility.

"It is the clear policy of Qld Health to not contract out current services except where there are very specific circumstances, such as critical skill shortages and urgent situations.

"Only reputable and licensed trade contractors are engaged to perform work at HHS facilities. If a recall is the fault of the contractor, those works are carried out by the contractor at their expense."

Queensland Health said it was committed to negotiating fair and sustainable outcomes in the EBA negotiations including providing secure employment and not contracting out building and maintenance services which could be performed in-house.

They said more tradespeople and apprentices were being hired around the state.



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