Essential healthcare workers walkout in South Australia, demand workplace safety

Over a 100 workers staged a walkout in a one-day strike action on December 14, the second to hit major hospitals in South Australia this month. Workers have complained of serious understaffing in State hospitals and unsafe work practices

December 14, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
Australia healthcare workers protest
Essential health workers walk-out from two major hospitals in Adelaide, South Australia, protesting unsafe working practices and severe understaffing in hospitals. (Photo: United Workers Union/Facebook)

More than 100 essential healthcare workers in South Australia staged a walkout on Tuesday, December 14, from hospitals in Adelaide, South Australia. The walk-out was organized by the United Workers Union (UWU) and included essential workers in two of the city’s major hospitals, Royal Adelaide Hospital and Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

This is the second such strike to hit hospitals in the State of South Australia this month, where essential workers in the healthcare sector have complained about unsafe workplace practices. Earlier this month, dozens of essential workers from three major hospitals held a similar walk-out protest organized by the UWU.

These actions are part of a larger Statewide campaign by essential health workers, including cleaners, caterers, sterilization staff and patient services assistants, to protest unsafe working conditions which they argue put both patients and care-givers at risk.

The UWU has complained of major understaffing in South Australia’s hospitals that has caused unacceptable lapses in patient care. “Understaffing issues raised by our members highlight the impact of SA’s health crisis, and our members are simply not going to take it anymore,” said UWU’s public sector coordinator Paul Blackmore.

The union has also blamed efforts by the Liberal Party government of State premier Steven Marshall to privatize healthcare in this crisis situation in the State’s hospitals. The union listed reports showing that patients, especially at-risk disabled and aged-care patients, have faced neglect.

Among the reasons listed for the labor action were improper handling of medicines by unqualified personnel due to time constraints caused by labor shortages, unsafe patient transfers, aged-care patients left to feed themselves, and putting patients through potential food-related hazards due to lack of trained staff.

Workers have alleged that many of them are forced into unsafe work practices by hospital authorities. “Essential health workers have placed specific work bans to stop dangerous work conditions where workers are being asked to bend or break safety rules due to understaffing,” Blackmore added.

Union leaders have also pointed out that despite the issues caused by understaffing in hospitals, the Marshall government is planning to cut down 2,000 jobs in the health sector in the next two-and-a-half years.

Other issues faced by essential workers in the sector listed by the union include hundreds of unfilled vacancies in major hospitals in the city, constant double shifts demanded of workers, and lack of PPEs (personal protective equipment) for staff.

“We will not stand by and let our health system be turned into a profit margin for a multinational corporation,” said Chris, a union member and patient services assistant, in the statement released by the UWU. “We are damn proud to work and serve our community and we will fight this Liberal privatization agenda to the end.”