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Do Nurses Need to Join a Nursing Union and do Nurses Need Professional Indemnity Insurance?

January 16, 2020

Questions about unions and which to join / should I join / what benefit is there to joining a union etc, crop up several times a year from nurses, and at the same time, questions about professional indemnity insurance (PII) often get thrown into the debate. We explore the options.

Whether you join a union or not is a personal decision.

Many nurses choose to join a union because of the additional benefits that unions to provide, such as pay advice, PII, industrial support and legal representation in the event you need assistance with a situation arising from work (for example, workers compensation, coroner’s inquest or professional disciplinary hearings).

Others include workplace health and safety services and other benefits such as discounts and free or discounted mandatory training.

It is NOT a legal requirement to join a union but you may be encouraged to join a union by your nursing peers or employer.

First things first – union membership can be claimed as a tax deduction. (Check with your accountant regarding your specific situation as your income and other deductions may mean that 100% of the fee is not deductible).

Union membership can also often be paid by direct debit instalments (eg: fortnightly, monthly, quarterly etc) to relieve some of the financial burden.

Stories from union members:

““I was a new grad last year. I had previously worked at the same hospital 0.2 as an AIN. All new grads got their 76 hours sick leave after 3 months and I got 16 hours. I was told by payroll and HR, as I was an existing member of staff, that I was only entitled to sick leave at 0.2 and that I had to wait a year to get the full sick leave entitlement. I went to the union and they fought it all the way to the Ministry of Health to get me the full sick leave entitlement.”

““We’re currently fighting for patient ratios – if you don’t think they’re important, I’m quite sure you’ll change your mind about a week after you’re on the floor full time. Our penalty rates are fought for and protected by unions. Then there are union discounts on travel, cars, financial advice etc that you can access too.”

PII is another issue altogether, and it IS a requirement …

AHPRA states that ‘under the National Law, nurses and midwives must not practise the profession in which they are registered unless they hold appropriate professional indemnity insurance (PII) arrangements in relation to their practice.’

When you practise as a nurse and/or a midwife, the onus is on you to take steps to make sure that you have PII arrangements in place which provide adequate and appropriate cover for all aspects of your practice. You must be covered by either your own or third-party PII arrangements that meet this standard:

  1. for all aspects of your practice

  2. that cover for all locations where you practice

  3. that provide cover for you whether you are working in the private sector, non-government sector and/or public sector, and

  4. that provide cover for you whether you are practising full-time, part-time, self-employed, employed, or in an unpaid or volunteer capacity, or any combination of these factors.

Where you get your PII is entirely up to you.

Union memberships usually, if not always, include PII, however, PII may also be provided:

  • through your private or public sector employer (for example, is you are employed by NSW Health, you have PII as part of your employment)

  • as part of the membership of a professional body, trade union or defence organisation (for example, if you are a member of NSW Nurses and Midwives Association NSWNMA, you have PII)

  • through a contract of insurance obtained by you directly from an insurer or through an insurance broker, or

  • through a combination of the above.

When you register or renew your registration with AHPRA each year, you must declare that you will not practice unless you have professional indemnity insurance arrangements in place, and this is a requirement under the National Law.

PII usually only covers you for the state you practice in.

PII can be claimed as a tax deduction. (Check with your accountant regarding your specific situation as your income and other deductions may mean that 100% is not deductible).

As with anything, it’s important that you do your research, check the facts, compare what each union offers, ensure that their values and priorities and aligned with yours and the benefits are actually benefits to you personally.

Shopping on price alone should not determine what cover you choose either – remember that you get what you pay for, and some PII / union memberships may not give the cover or benefits that you expect or need.

Check with your employer if you are covered and what for, and check out the Unions below to see what they offer.

The Australian Nurses & Midwives Federation is the national union, and has branches for each state and territory in Australia.

Outside of the umbrella of the Australian Nurses & Midwives Federation, in Queensland, there is also:

NPAQ – Nurses Professional Association of Queensland – https://www.npaq.com.au/

There are also some professional associations also provide a reduced rate of PII for their members. We’ll pop details about associations in a post for another day!

Questions, if relevant and/or important to you, that you may wish to ask to a union before you join …

  1. Does the insurance component cover you for travel to and from work?

  2. Are you covered for providing midwifery services and birthing?

  3. What exactly are the benefits – eg: health insurance, shopping and mortgage discounts?

Have we missed any? Do you know of any other Unions? What else should you ask a union before you join? What’s your experience?

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