Public hospital nurses in Port Macquarie and Kempsey have voted to join a statewide strike next week as frustrations over understaffing, pay and conditions boil over.
Votes on industrial action are still underway in some branches across the state, but the NSW Nurses and Midwives' Association (NSWNMA) says a majority have endorsed the industrial action.
Thousands of nurses will walk off the job for up to 24 hours in a statewide strike on Tuesday, says the union, which represents 48,000 nurses in NSW public hospitals.
President of the NSWNMA Port Macquarie Base Hospital branch Mark Brennan said Port Macquarie nurses will strike for eight hours on Tuesday, February 15, while nursing staff at Kempsey Base Hospital will walk off the job for an hour.
"The Port Macquarie branch held a meeting on Tuesday night and it was a unanimous vote that we go out on strike for eight hours on the 15th from 7am to 3.30pm," he said.
"We will be meeting at Town Green at 10am and we're going to parade down Horton Street."
Nurses in Kempsey will hold their strike out the front of the Kempsey District Hospital between 2 and 3pm on Tuesday.
"We have asked for the general public to some and support us as well," Mr Brennan said.
"We're also working closely with the management at Port Base Hospital to ensure that nurses will be on site to provide safe patient care."
NSWNMA general secretary Brett Holmes said the decision to hold a statewide strike was difficult.
"We don't recommend industrial action lightly, especially when a pandemic is still underway, but the status quo can't continue," he said.
"We can't return to pre-COVID-19 staffing levels when we were already in crisis."
The February 15 strike will also coincide with rallies across the state, with members to flock to NSW Parliament on its first sitting day of the year.
Rallies will also be held in Newcastle, Coffs Harbour, Bathurst, Bega, Lismore and Tamworth.
It is the first statewide strike since July 2013, and comes as NSW hospitals remain on high alert amid the pandemic, with staff furloughed as the COVID-19 patient load remains high.
The union's primary ask is that the government combat understaffing by implementing nursing and midwifery staffing ratios, as in Queensland and Victoria.
A fair pay rise, above the 2.5 per cent offered by the government, and no changes to COVID-19 workers compensation are among its demands.
The government is seeking to scrap an automatic presumption under workers' compensation rules that essential workers were infected with the virus at work.
If successful, essential workers - including doctors, nurses, paramedics, teachers and supermarket workers - will have to prove they caught COVID-19 on the job to access compensation, something unions say is virtually impossible.
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