Apparently we LOVE night duty?!

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    On a recent blog post where I was ranting about how night duty sucks, I came across an "interesting" ongoing dispute on the pros and cons of night duty for nurses...

    Basically the New South Wales (Australia) Nursing Association is trying to increase penalty rates for nurses working night shift. The current night penalty rate of 15% in NSW has not risen for 34 years!

    NSW Health has responded by claiming a penalty increase would be too expensive and that change is unnecessary because everything is working okay. A spokesperson says, "night shifts in Emergency Departments are satisfying because nurses have a heavy workload, while night shifts in medical wards are likely to involve little more than doing basic observations on a regular basis. "

    Additionally, "the witness believes night shifts are so easy that nurses often choose to work nights".

    What on earth!?!?

    As someone who has loathed night duty for many years, I'm speechless that in the face of so much evidence, NSW Health would be so flippant and callous with their remarks on night duty. What I would suggest, is that they go and WORK a few night shifts, to get that dead feeling for themselves...

    More on this dispute at Nurse In Australia: Night Duty Revisited
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  3. 8 Comments so far...

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    I'm not sure I understand the terminology. Is that 15% penalty the same as a 15% shift differential (our term here in the States)? Do you get an additional 15% of your base pay for working nights?

    If that's the case, guess I'm a little confused. If the amount were a flat rate that hadn't increased in 34 years, I'd be upset, too. But if it's a percentage, then the actual amount would have risen as base pay increased.

    With differentials, it's better to have a percentage of base pay rather than a set amount for this very reason. With a flat rate, you have to renegotiate over and over, but with a percentage, the increase is built in and automatically rises any time the base pay goes up.

    If you get a 15% differential, you're better off than many of us. Among the nurses I know, a typical night shift differential is more like 10%.
    Last edit by rn/writer on Aug 25, '09
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    Hi Miranda,

    The gist of what is frustrating is that despite evidence to the contrary, NSW health seems to think that working night shifts doesn't have many adverse effects on your body, sleep patterns or your life, and in fact we all enjoy it!

    Regarding the specifics of the 'pay rises' (or lack thereof!) you are correct that when percentages are involved, the actual true dollar amount rises with your base pay each year.

    Having said that, the base pay rate in Australia is pretty low (compared with US if you convert AUD to USD) - we rely on penalty rates to make it worthwhile.

    NSW is behind every other state with their night duty penalty rates (as in, percentage of base rate added on each hour) at 15%. Other states in Oz pay between 20% (QLD) through to 35% (W.A) to work night shifts. When NSW tried to also increase their percentages, the comments made in rebuttal were basically that nights are easy and slow etc which we all know is not the case, and they refused to acknowledge the detrimental effects it can have on your body.

    My opinion is, if you're going to work night shifts, you should at least get fairly compensated.

    If a typical night shift differential in US is 10%, that seems pretty low to me... Are the conditions similar, ie are all nurses expected to work all shifts (including nights) each month? (as in you don't really get a choice?)

    Penalty rates are the only things that make nursing salaries worthwhile in Australia...
    Last edit by taeran on Aug 25, '09
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    I've seen night shift differentials/penalties as low as 5% with evenings 3-11 about half that.
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    Ah NSW Health...it's interesting that they site both being busy and not having to do anything as reasons for why nights are so 'popular' (I'm sure it's nothing at all to do with compulsory rotating rosters!) I also wonder who their witness is. I think I'll be heading into Victoria when I graduate so that I can watch the state implode from a safe distance.
    Rabid Response likes this.
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    If a typical night shift differential in US is 10%, that seems pretty low to me... Are the conditions similar, ie are all nurses expected to work all shifts (including nights) each month? (as in you don't really get a choice?)
    In most situations that I am aware of, US nurses work one distinct shift most of the time. There may be occasional staffing shortages that would require a day shift or PM shift nurse to pick one night a pay period, but that is the exception and not the rule. I cannot recall hearing of night shift nurses being asked to fill in on the other shifts.

    If I'm understanding correctly, you have rotating shifts. This is extremely hard on the body. When studies were done some time ago, researchers predicted gloom and doom for night shifters. Several years ago, they adjusted their dire predictions, saying that the grim prospects did not apply as heavily to those who worked nights willingly and on a regular basis. They reiterated their claims, however, for those who worked nights against their will and those who rotated shifts.

    I work nights by choice, as does my husband. It works with our schedule and our body rhythms. If someone wanted me to switch to days, I would want mega compensation because that feels so unnatural to me.

    In stating your case to the powers that be, you might want to focus on some of the health information that spells out the stressors involved in switching back and forth between shifts. You can certainly try to debunk the falsehood that night shift is slow, but I think you're better off shining a spotlight on the physical toll that it takes on workers, especially over time. Initially, employees were given a hard time about making claims for repetitive stress injuries (carpal tunnel syndrome and the like), but eventually, such maladies were taken seriously. You can present unwilling or rotating night shift work as a different but equally stretching repetitive stressor and explain that workers deserve proper compensation for being exposed to it.

    The benefit of this argument is that it doesn't matter if the shift is busy or slow. Just being there during certain hours, especially if the shifts rotate, causes the stress.
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    I work two 12 hours shift 7p-7a q week. I have responsibilties at home and my choices are limited at this time.

    It is not easy to work nights. We are going against nature. Studies have shown that we are at high risk for breast cancer and obesity (to name a few).

    Recently 1 of our PCT was in a car crash, 3 weeks later she has not returned to work. This is not the Ist time a night shift colleague was in a car crash.

    From personal experience I can report with utmost honesty that night shift takes its toll on the body.

    Social life suffers tremendously.

    There is perpetual sleep deprivation. There is a reason it is called the graveyard shift.

    The sad aspect is that the common consensus is that nite nurses don't do anything. Not true. On my unit, patient acuity keeps us busy. Plus nites have there own problems: patient more confused (sun down etc.), more falls, physicians not available to give critical orders. We don't have resources that are available to day or pm shifts.

    Though I have a great nursing team, i cannot wait to come on days.
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    Night shift is popular? Hm....some of the reason I did it was to avoid management; they were very unpopular, hence making night shift a very popular option.

    I miss nights, but do not miss the heavy toll it takes on one's body.
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    Quote from Neelum RN

    The sad aspect is that the common consensus is that nite nurses don't do anything. Not true. On my unit, patient acuity keeps us busy. Plus nites have there own problems: patient more confused (sun down etc.), more falls, physicians not available to give critical orders. We don't have resources that are available to day or pm shifts.
    I know this is not true as does anyone who has ever worked a night shift. Everything is more difficult when you are fighting to keep your eyes open. I appreciate the night shift so much because I could never do it. I get so cranky and mentally cloudy that I dont even feel like I am a safe practitioner. Every shift has their cross to bare (bear?), I am just glad that we are not forced to rotate to nights because I would probably kill someone.


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