Australia to steal nurses from developing nations

Two years ago, the Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business published a report (since removed) assessing skills availability in nursing.

This report found that nursing was oversupplied with workers:

While there were differences by specialisation, in 2017-18, employers generally filled their nurse vacancies with relative ease.

In 2017-18, 72% of nurse vacancies were filled and there was an average of 7.2 applicants per vacancy. These results are fairly consistent with those experienced over the previous three years (see Figure 1).

The vast majority of applicants were qualified nurses, however, over two thirds of qualified applicants were not considered suitable.

The primary reason for unsuitability was either a lack of experience in a specialisation or a lack of general experience in the occupation. Other reasons included poorly written applications, poor interview performance, not being registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA), and a lack of desired soft skills…

The supply of nurses has increased in recent years, with nursing graduate numbers and nurse registrations at historically high levels.

In 2016, more than 11,000 students graduated from a nursing bachelor course and 6500 students completed a diploma level enrolled nursing course. In March 2018, more than 392,800 nurses had general registration with AHPRA…

Employment outcomes for nursing graduates are fairly strong. In 2017, 79.3% of university nursing graduates were employed full-time four months after graduating. While higher than the average for all graduates (71.8%), outcomes are well below the historical employment outcomes for nurses (of above 90% from 2006 to 2012).

The federal government’s own historical skills shortage list also shows that nurses have not been in shortage for many years, specifically:

  • Nurse educator – hasn’t been in shortage since 2008.
  • Nurse manager – hasn’t been in shortage since 2008.
  • Registered nurses – haven’t been in shortage since 2011.
  • Enrolled nurses – haven’t been in shortage since 2011.

In fact, midwives are the only category of nursing deemed in shortage.

A report from the Australian Population Research Institute (APRI) also found that that the number of doctors in Australia has easily out-paced growth in the population, driven largely by a conga-line of overseas trained doctors (OTDs) that enter Australia to work in a regional area only to then move to already-oversupplied cities once their mandatory term is up.

Despite the above facts, the Morrison Government is now using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to import 2000 overseas trained nurses and doctors:

Health Minister Greg Hunt said doctors and nurses who had already applied to come to Australia would be able to sidestep travel restrictions to secure flights and take up critical jobs in our pandemic response…

Figures provided by the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation show that skilled migrants make up 21 per cent of all newly registered nurses. In Victoria, overseas-trained doctors make up 23 per cent of total doctors and 30 per cent of doctors in regional areas…

In 2019, the Australian College of Nursing had a waiting list of 3000 people to do its course. The waiting list is now down to 300 and its current intake has just two nurses from overseas.

One of them is a 31-year-old cardiac theatre nurse from Manila, nicknamed Cham, who is about to start a job with a Melbourne suburban hospital. She was accepted into the course before the pandemic but, once Australia’s borders closed, had her application for a travel exemption rejected five times.

She is one of seven Filipino nurses who had planned to come to Australia together…

The union argues it is unethical for Australia to draw on nurses from low-income countries facing their own shortage of healthcare workers.

“Overseas recruitment should not be the primary strategy to overcome workforce shortages in Australia or as an alternative to education and recruitment opportunities for the existing domestic workforce,” the union wrote in a recent submission to government.

Australia is a wealthy nation. Why does it need to continually steal other countries’ health workers rather than training its own citizens?

Robbing skilled human capital from developing nations is a deplorable tactic that stalls their development. Taking these workers away will leave those source countries short of expertise to help their own people.

The only sustainable solution is for Australia to increase training numbers. If 20,000 nurse graduates a year isn’t enough, then lift the number. Moreover, improve pay and conditions to prevent nurses from leaving the field.

Sadly, the first response to any skills shortage in Australia – real or perceived – is to import migrant workers. And then we wonder why wage growth remains in the gutter.

Unconventional Economist
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  1. BoomToBustMEMBER

    from my understanding of this industry reading reports, its more a shortage of Division 2 nurses, which is nursing homes etc, not hospitals. This labour is often filled by foreign workers who are paid terrible money with poor conditions.

    • RobotSenseiMEMBER

      Yeah let’s be honest, nobody really goes to nursing school with ideas of working in a nursing home. You’re right on the money with the elephant in the room: the pay is rubbish, the work conditions unsafe, and surprisingly nobody really wants to do it.

  2. There is a shortage of skilled workers (nurse or next teachers) willing or able to work for low wages and high stress, so they may change careers. Or go to private hospitals or private schools which pay more. There is obviously no shortage if wages were raised.
    Due to the astronomical rents and house prices, these jobs can’t afford accomodation even with the high 50% of their wage for their families. Say an average 65K gross income, 50 K a/tax, then 25K or 500 a week barely gets a basic 2 bedroom flat in Sydney/Melbourne.
    Apparently overseas workers don’t need to pay these rent, or like backpackers can live cheaply in a hostel or van.
    The housing price boom is no boon for lower income workers.

    • BoomToBustMEMBER

      “Or go to private hospitals or private schools which pay more” – I dont believe this is correct as my wife is in the education sector, we arnt seeing higher wages for teachers in private schools.

    • Don’t you see this is how house prices are set at the margins. 3 bed house with lounge + dining . That’s 5 bed rooms with room for at least 10 beds.

      How much can 1 resident pay. Then multiply by 10.

      $60k salary – $990 ish net pay a week. $150-200pw rent.

      That leaves $800 a week to buy hello kitty paraphernalia and visit endless bubble tea shops.

  3. Yep, it’s long been like this since 2004 from what I’ve observed, some can barely communicate in English.
    I’ve worked with nurse who used a phone based translator to write documentation in English. How can they be expected to actually perform the human contact component of health care… ?
    They don’t ask questions or challenge so called health service managers, guess who gets the job?

  4. Also, the brain drain from developing countries is likely self enforcing, as it continues to widen differences in living standards thus causing more people from other industries to seek to immigrate as well, especially when they hear stories from the other immigrants.

  5. Come on Leith. This is about stealing nurses’ wages undermining their union. Let’s stop pretending the country that refuses to pass the AML from 2006 is anything other than corrupt to the core.

  6. Private hospitals pay less, and are typically staffed on a small permanent roster with fluctuating use of bank nurses to fit demand. The ratios are worse for the same work (with few exceptions), and with public hospitals being furloughed due to covid they are snatching up the bank staff pool.

    In addition, Covid vaccination clinics are paying a lot more which is also increasing demand for nurses and making it hard to fill rosters in both public and private hospitals leading to more overtime, less breaks and burnout for those who stick around.

    • Jumping jack flash

      Most graduate nurses will need to complete an additional masters equivalent qualification to even be considered by hospitals, unless the university drops their names to the hospitals after graduation. If you don’t make the list, then no job for you, and you’ll need to search around, usually finding casual work in nursing homes.

      You’d think that nursing homes would be spoiled for choice, but the problem is you can’t be eligible for the debt you need when working casual at a nursing home [especially after completing a 4 year degree].

      The nurses from The Philippines mustn’t aspire to debt ownership, at least not initially.

  7. Jumping jack flash

    Several of my nurse friends found it incredibly difficult to find positions at hospitals in regional centres after graduation and had to find casual/part time work in nursing homes. Hospitals in regional centres will only hire a couple of graduate nurses a year and they’re usually the ones recommended by the universities themselves.

    I find it ludicrous that they are raiding the 3rd world for nurses while so many graduate nurses still can’t find work. Well, actually not ludicrous at all, because it just reinforces the fact that public health is starved for cash from the governments’ failed privatisation agenda and they must hire cheap foreign labour to survive.

    As for nursing homes, they only ever give out casual positions and the pay is ridiculous for “degree-qualified” nurses. We all know that nursing homes are renowned for being cheap, and feed their residents sub-standard food. It is no surprise they want cheap foreign labour.

  8. “skilled migrants make up 21 per cent of all newly registered nurses. In Victoria, overseas-trained doctors make up 23 per cent of total doctors and 30 per cent of doctors in regional areas…”

    Migrants make up 29.8% of the population. On that basis we are short of migrant doctors and nurses. Of course migrants and overseas trained aren’t exactly synonymous, there are presumably a lot of migrants who are Australian trained.

      • Not ridiculous at all, unless your parents don’t use doctors.

        Could go at it from the other direction, what percentage of migrants are doctors. Compared to what percentage of native Australians are doctors. But that ignores who trained them.

  9. All Australians apart from full indigenous are ‘immigrants’, but many claim not to be (one knows many British immigrants/citizens who will never describe themselves as Oz, too demeaning for them….); for some that line between native and immigrants is the end of the white Oz policy….

    Patchy analysis using unclear headline data ignoring private nursing vs. state system, APRI analysis (credibility, have they ever found anything positive about ‘immigrants’?) and ignoring the numbers of Australian nurses who emigrate to work in e.g. the UK, Canada, US etc. etc.?

    Backgrounded by trends into the future of increasing dependency ratios of higher numbers of retirees accessing health care vs. commensurate decline in tax paying working age population; all amongst the permanent population which may balance out in a generation after the baby boomer ‘bubble’ has departed.

    If serious about supposed issues of ‘immigrant’ nurses in Australia solution would be to ‘bond’ Australian nurses to their occupation after graduation, allot them a workplace and preclude any form of participation in working holiday visa programs or temporary work offshore; may not be libertarian but definitely authoritarian to show who is boss. This is how it works for many Australian trained foreign nurses….

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