Illawarra hospital laundry job cuts won’t wash: union

The Health Services Union (HSU) has accused the state government of dirty tactics as Illawarra hospital laundry jobs are put through the wringer.

Thirteen NSW Health linen service jobs will go immediately in Wollongong, with more of the 63-strong workforce to follow if market testing found outsourcing was cheaper, the union warned. 

Workers at Port Kembla were told of the cuts on Friday. 

HSU secretary Gerard Hayes said the cuts were “another example of the health department’s policy of  privatisation by stealth”.

“This is a further case of kicking the Illawarra region in the guts and attacking the jobs of some of the lowest paid workers in the hospital system,” Mr Hayes said.

“It’s a significant service ... and to lose over 20 per cent of your staff without any consultation [asks the question] where is that work going?”

Mr Hayes said outsourcing linen services in the Illawarra would remove more than $650,000 in wages from a region that is already reeling from cutbacks in the steel industry.

“This is a hit for dedicated health workers who are not only employed in the linen service but are members of the local community and who spend their wages locally,” he said.

Linen services staff are responsible for treating, desanitising, cleaning and pressing tonnes of linen so it can be returned to service at hospitals across the region.

“This is infectious linen, it’s quite different to normal hotel linen,” Mr Hayes said.

“It [the job] can be dangerous; at times when they [staff] go through the linen there’s sharps in there and those sorts of things and these people do a very, very good job.”

Mr Hayes said the union was used to months of consultation in order to work through issues, but that hadn’t been the case on this occasion.

“They’ve had all those people on for many years and now, with the stroke of a pen, they’re not required,” he said.

“That tells me they have moved the linen, whether they’ve privatised it or whatever, they have moved that linen out of the Illawarra.”

The HSU will meet with its members on Monday and hasn’t ruled out industrial action as part of its fight to save jobs.

Privatisation of NSW Health linen services would put more than 560 jobs at risk across the state, most of them in regional areas, the union said.

The services employs about 63 people in Wollongong, 30 in Wagga, 200 at Parramatta, 60 in Tamworth,150 in Cardiff, 60 at Lismore and 60 in Orange.

Workers in Wagga were informed of job losses there during a meeting that was also held on Friday. 

HealthShare NSW manages the supply of linen to the state’s hospitals.

According to its website, HealthShare produces 40,000 tonnes of sheets, blankets, towels and surgical gowns each year.

In a statement, a HealthShare NSW spokeswoman said the organisation would be calling for expressions of interest (EOI) to provide the linen services in the Illawarra.

“The EOI process will determine whether there are any providers with the capability and capacity to service Illawarra and Wagga Wagga Linen Service customers more cost effectively than the current operation,” the statement said.

“Any alternative provider would need to demonstrate that they can be more effective than the current operation in terms of both cost and quality.

“In order to have a better comparison with any possible external provider, we need to lower our internal costs. As a result, there will be a reduction of 13.3 full time equivalent (FTE) positions at the Illawarra Linen Service.  We are committed to providing assistance to staff affected by this process.

“This process will be managed in accordance with NSW Health policies, which includes the provision of assistance and advice to affected staff, help for seeking redeployment, access to career transition assistance and voluntary redundancy options.”

[Scroll down to see HealthShare NSW’s full response]

The EOI process begins later this month.

Port Kembla kitchen employees Karli Prigg, Melissa Maruca and Michael Scerri in February, 2014. At that time, HealthShare NSW flagged a plan to transfer food production for the region’s hospitals to Sydney. Picture: Orlando Chiodo

Port Kembla kitchen employees Karli Prigg, Melissa Maruca and Michael Scerri in February, 2014. At that time, HealthShare NSW flagged a plan to transfer food production for the region’s hospitals to Sydney. Picture: Orlando Chiodo

The move comes following the removal of medical warehouses from regional areas to Sydney and a push to shift food services from Port Kembla Hospital two years ago. 

In February 2014, HealthShare NSW flagged a plan to transfer food production for the region’s hospitals to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney.

“We intervened there, we fought there and we won there,” Mr Hayes said. 

NSW health minister Jillian Skinner has been contacted for comment. 

VIDEO | An inside look at HealthShare NSW Linen Services

Source: HealthShare NSW.

HealthShare NSW’s full response to Mercury questions about linen service job cuts

HealthShare NSW will be releasing an Expression of Interest (EOI) to the market in relation to the provision of linen services at its Illawarra and Wagga Wagga sites. These linen sites are currently managed by HealthShare NSW.

HealthShare NSW has a responsibility to operate as efficiently as possible for the benefit of patients across NSW.

The EOI process will determine whether there are any providers with the capability and capacity to service Illawarra and Wagga Wagga Linen Service customers more cost effectively than the current operation. Any alternative provider would need to demonstrate that they can be more effective than the current operation in terms of both cost and quality.

A detailed evaluation of the EOI responses will be undertaken, and at the conclusion of this evaluation, the next steps will be determined.

We are committed to ensuring staff and health facilities are kept advised of plans, and are well supported through this EOI process. Consultation with the Health Services Union has just begun and will continue on an ongoing basis.

In order to have a better comparison with any possible external provider, we need to lower our internal costs. As a result, there will be a reduction of 13.3 full time equivalent (FTE) positions at the Illawarra Linen Service.  We are committed to providing assistance to staff affected by this process.

This process will be managed in accordance with NSW Health policies, which includes the provision of assistance and advice to affected staff, help for seeking redeployment, access to career transition assistance and voluntary redundancy options.

The Expression of Interest will be released later this month and we will advise staff of progress over the coming months.

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