The Australian Nursing Federation has rejected an offer on pay and conditions from the WA government, but has made a last-minute decision to hold off on whether to begin industrial action.
Union members had been planning to start a ban on double shifts from Wednesday.
But after a 45-minute meeting with Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson late Tuesday, secretary Janet Reah said members would be polled overnight to decide whether the ban would go ahead.
"There's some amendments that [the government's] going to put forward," she said.
"At this point in time we have nothing new, but we have to discuss the amendments and see if the members are happy with the promise of the amendments, or if the promise is not good enough and they're going to do the industrial action anyway to show their displeasure with the current offer."
Ms Reah did not say what those amendments were and said a decision would likely be made by the morning, based on members' feedback.
Nurses and midwives have been calling for better pay and nurse-to-patient ratios.
The latest deal on the table from the state government does not change the proposed pay offer, giving nurses either a $60 per week increase or a three per cent annual pay rise, whichever is greater, plus a one-off $3,000 cost of living payment.
But it includes a nurse-to-patient ratio proposal, to be phased in over three years, that sets minimum ratios at 1:4 on day shifts and afternoon shifts, and 1:7 on night shifts.
It also includes a clause acknowledging "current national and global workforce pressures and the impacts this may have on the Employer’s ability to implement the WA Ratio Model".
In an email to members last night, Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) state secretary Janet Reah described the latest offer as insulting and said it involved a "hastily thrown together leaflet".
"We call it a leaflet because it is light on details and offers no relief to your current excessive workloads," she said.
"Please note, the three-year timeline in the leaflet ensures the ratios will not be enforceable until after the 2025 WA state election … how convenient for the government.
"They have no intention of putting ratios in place because they want the ANF to agree that current national and global workforce pressures may prevent them from implementing ratios.
"The ANF says NO to this offer, the ANF says NO to the ratios leaflet and we will have more information on the industrial action."
Existing pay offer final: Premier
Speaking to journalists outside parliament this morning, Premier Mark McGowan defended the timing for implementing ratios, saying it was an historic reform the government wanted to get right.
"In other states, it's taken three years to implement. That's the normal arrangement with these sorts of things, and we'd consult with the nurses union in making that happen," he said.
Mr McGowan said it could be a challenging task in WA with the state's vast size, and that a full plan with appropriate ratios for different areas of healthcare would need to be worked out.
He reiterated that the current wages offer was "final".
Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson said the government had given the union what they wanted.
"Last week the ANF said they don't need a fully fleshed-out ratios model, they just want an in-principle agreement," she said.
"We've given them that."
ANF labels deal 'disgraceful'
Ms Reah, who on Tuesday was revealed as having won the union's election to become its permanent state secretary, said the government sent their latest offer to a newspaper journalist on Monday afternoon.
The story with details of the offer appeared online at 8pm and Ms Reah said the government only sent the offer to the ANF at 8:30pm.
ANF chief executive Mark Olson labelled the government’s offer and its conduct as "disgraceful", citing the leak to the newspaper and the fact it happened on the eve of a union election.
"It basically says WA nurses and midwives will have to put up with their excessive workloads, the double shifts – the terrible things that have been going on for the last year or two – they’re going to have to put up with that for three years whilst the government talks about how they may implement unenforceable, non-mandatory ratios," he said.
"It’s actually worse than what we currently have."
Mr McGowan said the government had been planning to put the new offer to the ANF at a scheduled meeting on Monday afternoon, before it was cancelled by the union.
"Then there were numerous attempts to contact them by phone in order to put the offer to them, [and] they didn't take the calls," he said.
"We wanted to get the information out to the workforce, so there's limited ways you can do it.
"Therefore we published it because we wanted the workforce to understand what was being offered."
Offer 'reasonable and responsible': Health Minister
Nurses and midwives met last week to demand nurse-to-patient and midwife-to-patient ratios.
The union also voted to request a 10 per cent annual pay rise and a cost of living payment of $4,500.
Last week the government said it would not budge from its existing pay offer, but Ms Sanderson said the government was "genuinely working towards improving working conditions for our nurses" and was offering "in-principle support to the implementation of nurse and midwife to patient ratios".
"We want to work with the nursing unions on how we implement ratios across our public hospitals, in an historic reform," she said in an earlier statement.
"I would urge the ANF to accept the reasonable and responsible wages offer, and the agreement around ratios, so that we can get the $3,000 cost of living payment into nurses' pockets before Christmas.
"I call on the ANF not to put patients in the middle of this dispute. This significant offer means you should cancel further industrial action."
The ANF's campaign of industrial action is due to begin tomorrow with a ban on nurses working double shifts, before gradually escalating to bed closures and an indefinite strike in seven weeks' time.
Both Mr McGowan and Ms Sanderson today urged the union to call off the action.
"We've had conversations with them and we've listened to what they've had to say and we're providing the thing that they most wanted, which is nurse-to-patient ratios, in a way that suits the state of Western Australia and meets the needs of the workforce," Mr McGowan said.
“There’s no need for industrial action.”
Opposition slams 'smoke and mirrors'
Opposition Leader Mia Davies said the government had been "dragged kicking and screaming" to make its latest offer.
"But it's time they stepped out of the political arena and negotiated properly," she said.
Opposition health spokeswoman Libby Mettam slammed the three-year timeline for delivering nurse-to-patient ratios.
"It's all smoke and mirrors by the McGowan government," she said.
"The Minister for Health has to stop playing union games and start taking the issues of health workers and WA patients seriously.
"We have a crisis in our hospital system and the McGowan government can only promise something for after the next election."