One week out from the historic national nurses’ strike the two parties are today beginning two days of urgent facilitation talks in a final effort to resolve the impasse.
On Monday night mediation broke down between the New Zealand Nurses Organisation and 20 district health boards with NZNO saying it could not reach an agreement with the DHBs on a new offer it was prepared to take to its nurse, midwife and healthcare assistant members.
Both sides called for urgent facilitation from the Employment Relations Authority in a last ditch attempt to come up with a solution to avert the planned strike. Facilitation is due to get underway from today for two days. A ‘window’ is still believed to be open for a special online ballot of NZNO’s DHB members if facilitation leads to an offer the union believes may meet the pay and safe staffing concerns that led to the strong rejection of the DHBs’ third pay offer.
The DHBs said on Monday night that the failed mediation was a “setback’ but they would continue to do everything they could to settle the agreement.
Facilitation by the Employment Relations Authority member can only be sought in certain circumstances including “unduly drawn out and extensive efforts to resolve the parties differences have failed” and “a strike or lockout has been proposed that would substantially damage the public interest”. The Authority member carrying out the facilitation decides the processes to be used to and the facilitation is carried out in private.
At the end of the process the Authority can make recommendations on the process the parties should use to reach agreement and the terms and conditions of the collective agreement. The recommendations are not binding on NZNO and the DHBS but both parties must consider the recommendations in good faith. The authority may chose to make its facilitation recommendations public “in the interests of reaching a settlement”.
Social media indicates that many nurses are committed to striking to bring home their frustration at ongoing safe staffing and pay concerns that have been simmering for nearly a decade. Many are also expressing concern of the impact on their patients and financially stretched colleagues. DHBs are facing major disruption to services and are beginning to contact patients to postpone and reschedule non-urgent surgery and appointments leading up to, on and after the first July 5 strike. Notice has also now been delivered by NZNO for the second strike day on July 12.
Statistics provided by the DHBs show just over 31,400 nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants are currently employed by the 20 DHBs with the NZNO representing about 27,000 of those. DHB district health and mental health nurses in a number of regions – particularly Auckland – are Public Service Association (PSA) members and DHB midwives are also represented by MERAS.