South Coast nurses say the end of a free parking scheme introduced to help them at the height of the pandemic is not only a financial concern, but a safety issue.
Frontline workers at paid public hospital car parks across the state - including at Wollongong and Shoalhaven hospitals - were given a parking fee reprieve by the NSW Government in April last year.
Nurses, doctors, allied health workers, cleaners and security guards were among those given access to the scheme to help them deal with the COVID crisis.
But from this April, NSW Health will resume charging hospital staff up to $23.60 a week to park at their workplaces.
Shoalhaven Hospital nurse Michael Clarke, NSW Nurses and Midwives Association branch president, said members were upset by the move.
"Our members welcomed the suspension of parking fees last year; then were dismayed when the NSW Government denied us our promised wage increase of 2.5 per cent - instead awarding an 0.3 per cent rise during a pandemic and the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife," he said.
"The government has described us as the cornerstone of the health system, yet the reintroduction of parking fees displays a profound and deep inability for them to match their words with actions."
Mr Clarke said staff at regional hospitals including Shoalhaven and Wollongong were adversely affected by parking fees due to inferior public transport systems compared to metropolitan Sydney.
"Most members are reliant on private vehicles so we believe the reintroduction of fees to be an inequitable impost for car-reliant nurses and midwives."
There were also safety issues, with staff forced to walk the streets at night to and from their cars, he said.
"Many members start, or finish at 11pm," he said. "We want to make sure they get to and from work safely."
NSWNMA general secretary Brett Holmes said the clawback of the free parking scheme was a "disgrace".
"Despite being on the COVID-19 frontline for 12 challenging months, and the vaccine rollout in its infancy, the government wants to slug nurses, midwives and all other health staff with paid parking at public hospitals," he said.
"These women and men have barely received a 0.3 per cent increase in their pay and already the government wants them to open their wallets again. For some, that's more than $1200 a year in parking fees that they'll need to find."
A NSW Health spokesperson said free car parking was introduced on a temporary basis last April to ease the burden on hospital staff during a very challenging time.
"The COVID-19 situation has now eased across the state and activity in public hospitals has increased significantly," the spokesperson said.
"As hospital activity continues to increase in NSW, it is critical patients, families and visitors have easy access to health services.
"Hospital car parks, particularly those in metropolitan areas, are now experiencing capacity issues due to the increased demand for spaces and it is appropriate that free parking for staff cease in April."
The spokesperson said NSW Health employed around 140,000 people and its hospital car parks were "not constructed to provide free parking for all staff".
"Some staff will still be able to access parking at reduced weekly rates available under previous arrangements."
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