A survey seeking feedback from nurses who rejected the 20 district health boards’ pay offer is closing on Thursday as negotiators ready themselves for mediation – and the chance of industrial action if mediation fails.
In mid-December the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) announced that its nurse, midwife and healthcare assistant DHB members had voted to reject the proposed new DHB MECA (multi-employer collective agreement) during 400 meetings held across the country.
The pay offer – a two per cent increase, backdated to November 6, for the majority of nurses and midwives covered by the MECA, and further two per cent pay rise in August 2018 and August 2019 had been widely criticised in social media by some of the 27,000 NZNO members covered by the proposed deal as being too low and not adequately reflecting the pressure and stress they had worked under in recent years (see details of the rejected offer here).
In its update to members on December 13, the NZNO negotiating team said the rejection of the proposed MECA showed that DHB members believed a “better offer was worth the very serious consideration of possible industrial action”.
It said the team would “take every opportunity in front of us” to achieve a better offer through mediation (due to begin January 31) without resorting to industrial action. But it had scheduled a series of meetings starting in late February to update DHB members on the negotiation’s progress and those meetings could be used to hold a ballot on industrial action.
“Should industrial action occur, we will work with DHBs to provide essential services for people who need them,” said the MECA update. “We are aware of your professional commitment to your patients and although it hasn’t happened for a long time, we have experience of industrial action and balancing the two.”
A spokesperson for the DHBs’ negotiating team has yet to respond to Nursing Review’s request for comment.
NZNO industrial advisor Chris Wilson said participation is going well in its online survey of DHB members. The survey is being used to get formal confirmation from DHB members of the anecdotal feedback negotiators had received on what were the major issues that members wanted addressed when the negotiations go to mediation on January 31. The survey went online just before Christmas and is due to close at 4pm on Thursday, January 18.
Wilson said the survey did not include a question on whether to pursue industrial action if mediation failed to meet a resolution, and instead focused on getting formal feedback on what was needed to reach a MECA deal that members would accept.
She said the NZNO negotiators at this point were very much committed to the mediation process. “Obviously we will see what occurs on Jan 31.” A reserve day for mediation has also been set for early February.
“Industrial action does remain a possibility if we’re not able to secure an outcome through mediation that members are comfortable with,” said Wilson. But she said it was hopeful that once employers saw the issues highlighted by members in its online survey the negotiations “might make some grounds”.
The December 13 MECA update to NZNO DHB members said that it understood that the members key reasons for rejection were as follows:
- The two per cent pay increase was not enough to recognise the hours of unpaid overtime, missed breaks, stress and burnout that members had experienced as a result of the persistent health funding shortages over the last nine years.
- There wasn’t enough clarity about the amount and timing of any pay increases due to the planned pay equity process.
- Members were concerned that the nearly three-year MECA term meant that they would get left behind relative to other groups. Especially if the pay equity process didn’t deliver a quick result.
- The apparent lack of a guarantee of funding or staffing available to respond to the demand created by the implementation of the safe staffing process.