Oncology nurse Catherine McMutrie loves her field of work and after stints in aged care and working for the government in quality management, she returned to clinical nursing in 2004 at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.
‘I thought “I just want to be a nurse”,’ she said. Caring for cancer patients is all about the relationship.
‘It’s the complexity of communication, the skills that you build up over time around communication. There’s so much education involved with people who are having chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and managing the toxicity of both is not a “one size fits all” for these patients.
‘And you don’t just meet them once. You might know them over several years.’
Ms McMutrie knew she wanted to work in this field after doing a clinical placement at the Royal Children’s Hospital while a student.
Her dedication to nursing cancer patients is echoed by others in her team who care for cancer patients in their homes. One nurse has been working at Peter Mac for 30 years.
So it was a surprise to discover that for about seven years, members of the team had not been receiving the pay to which they were entitled. When members of the team work on weekends, one steps up to take on a coordination and management role, as well as caring for patients.
Under their enterprise agreement, the nurses were meant to have been paid extra for the additional duties and responsibility.
‘Over the years people would say “This is ludicrous”. We all moaned about it but we didn’t do anything about it,’ Ms McMutrie said.
After one particularly difficult public holiday weekend when Ms McMutrie had been the ‘nominated nurse’, she reached the end of her tether and spoke to her manager.
While the nurses were reassured to hear that the higher duties weekend role would be officially recognised as an ‘in charge’ role, Ms McMutrie galvanised an effort to obtain back pay for her colleagues for all the weekends they had worked as the ‘nominated nurse’.
‘We stayed silent for too long,’ Ms McMutrie said. ‘Way too long.’
Ms McMutrie contacted the ANMF which confirmed that under their agreement the nurses were entitled to a higher pay rate for the weekends they had taken on coordination and management duties.
Ms McMutrie then doggedly pursued the team’s back pay. Luckily, one team member never deleted emails, so had records of each weekend’s roster. With that information, and the hospital’s records, Ms McMutrie was able to identify who had worked as the ‘nominated nurse’ and created a spreadsheet to calculate backpay for the past seven years. Even so, there was disagreement over the amount, with the hospital initially calculating back pay on its estimate of hours the nurses would have spent on coordination and management duties over the weekends.
‘We all got summonsed to a meeting where we were handed envelopes which outlined that our backpay claim had been agreed to but when I opened up the envelope I thought “That’s not a lot of money for so many hours”,’ Ms McMutrie said.
‘I spoke for the group and said “We will be seeking advice on this. We’re not signing this.”’
Again Ms McMutrie sought the ANMF’s support to lobby the hospital for back pay for the entirety of hours in the shifts the nurses had ‘acted up’. The nurses have now been paid their entitlements under the enterprise agreement, with back pay totalling thousands of dollars.
‘It’s easy to pay people what they’re entitled to,’ Ms McMutrie said.
Unsurprisingly, ANMF suggested to Ms McMutrie that she become a Job Rep, as her persistence in pursuing her colleagues’ pay entitlements was exemplary.
‘I guess one person had to be the coordinator of it and I felt good about standing up for them and taking it through to the end,’ Ms McMutrie said.
‘And it’s actually energised everyone too. We’re not going to stay silent anymore.’
The role of Job Rep is not always as hands-on but the story of how these members gained the pay to which they were entitled illustrates the crucial role of Job Reps as conduits between their colleagues and the ANMF. For information about becoming a Job Rep and for training dates, visit anmfvic.asn.au/reps