Patient safety is being put at risk by understaffing, forced overtime and inadequate ratios, nurses claim as they walked off the job on Wednesday.
Dozens of Wollongong Day Surgery nurses walked out of the wards in a four-hour protest following a breakdown of talks with their employer Healthe Care, who claims they are the "best paid, with the best conditions in the sector".
Nurses and union officials gathered outside the Crown Street surgery with flags and banners, as passing motorists tooted their horns and gave thumbs up in support of their plea.
NSW Nurses and Midwives' Association union general secretary Shaye Candish said nurses face unsafe staffing and workload concerns.
"Our members are seeking sensible improvements to their enterprise agreement including shift-by-shift nursing and midwifery ratios to ensure safe patient care, and a fair pay offer reflecting rising costs of living," she said.
An emotional Marylouise Laxton fronted the protest, and the nurse of 43 years said it's a job she loves, but conditions put patients at risk.
"Absolutely it's a safety risk. The major safety issue is that people don't realise that nurse are not coming into the profession and they're dropping out like crazy because we're getting to retirement age and the young ones are getting burnt out," she said.
"We are seriously heading to third-world medicine because we just don't have enough nurses.
"Other states have ratios, this is just completely inappropriate."
Negotiations for a new enterprise agreement commenced in December 2021 which included a 2.5 per cent pay offer per year over four years. It was rejected in December 2022.
NSWMWA accused Healthe Care of refusing to negotiate on staffing ratios and this week put a revised offer to a vote, which includes just 1.75 per cent more in total pay rises across the life of the agreement.
Wollongong Day Surgery union branch president Lyne Dine said nurses often work without breaks, and can be rostered on for an eight-hour shifted but forced to work up to 11 hours.
"Staff just don't walk out, they can't walk out," she said. "We want communication regarding that overtime so that it's not just forced.
It could be a safety risk and we just need the right amount of staff to look after patients that we care for.- Wollongong Day Surgery union branch president Lyne Dine
"It could be a safety risk and we just need the right amount of staff to look after patients that we care for."
Healthe Care issued a statement to the Illawarra Mercury which said they have regularly met with the NSWNMA and Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) to negotiate an offer.
"We believe that it represents a fair and reasonable offer, with our nurses and midwives maintaining their position as the best paid, with the best conditions in the sector," the statement said.
"While we support our staff's right to respectful industrial action, safe patient care remains our priority, and we hope there will be little disruption for our patients, doctors and staff."
Ms Laxon, a nurse of 39 years, fears hospitals will be closed down in years to come due to conditions and lack of support by employers and the government.
"Bed shortage is code word in management for 'we don't have enough nurses to look after the patients that are at the door'," she said.