A decade on: MECA pay talks underway again

February 2015 Vol 15 (1)

On 28 February the fourth national MECA pay agreement between 20 district health boards and the New Zealand Nurses Organistion expired. FIONA CASSIE backgrounds the talks and some of the history leading up to the latest negotiations.


Pay talksIt is a decade since the ground-breaking national MECA agreement was ratified by public hospital nurses, bringing about the first major pay jolt for nurses in a very long time.

Ten years after safe staffing first raised its head as a major issue during the 2004 talks, it is still on the agenda as the DHBs and NZNO started formal talks in late January as the first step to renewing the MECA (multi-employer collective agreement) covering 25,773 DHB employees. The majority of the DHBs/NZNO MECA members are registered and enrolled nurses but the MECA also covers midwives, healthcare assistants and hospital aides.

Lesley Harry, NZNO industrial advisor for the pay talks, said before going into the second round of bargaining in mid-February that it was aware that the parameters for public sector bargaining was 0.7 per cent. "That's been set by the State Services Commission," said Harry. "So we know we've got a long way before we resolve all our issues."

In a recent update to NZNO members she said it had been made "very clear" at the highest level of government that members had told them a pay offer of less than one per cent "would not cut it".

She also said that "not surprisingly" the DHBs had informed NZNO at the February talks that NZNO's expectations and the DHB's ability to pay were far apart. "In fact, the DHBs are unable to let us know anything about their financial situation until after the DHB chief executives meet in early March.

"As you know, the bargaining environment is not made easy by Government’s constraints on funding and its obsession with reaching surplus."

Harry said during the February talks it gave DHBs detailed information about the union's goal of a "decent pay rise for all" and how nurses' wages currently compared to similar occupations. The similar benchmarked occupational groups include police, teachers and medical radiation technologists. Harry has said NZNO was particularly interested in emulating the longer pay scales of these occupations than the current NZNO five-step basic pay scale.

But Harry added that money was only one issue with other prominent issues being more action on safe staffing, access to professional development and ironing out the variations in content and access to professional development recognition programmes (PDRPs).

By the end of last year, 12 of the 20 DHBs had started to implement the safe staffing Care Capacity Demand Management tools developed five years ago by the joint Safe Staffing Healthy Workplace Unit.

A DHB spokesperson, Mick Prior of DHB Shared Services, said in early February that the DHBs were not yet ready to discuss their priorities for the negotiation process. The next negotiation dates are set down for March.

PPP table 01


If recent DHB pay talks settled by other unions are setting a precedent NZNO nurses may be unlikely to receive a generous pay offer during these negotiations.

The trend has also been for short 12 to 13 month time spans for the multi-employer collective agreements (MECAs).

The junior doctor MECA was ratified on February 18 this year after drawn-out negotiations between the 20 District Health Boards and the New Zealand Resident Doctors' Association that followed the expiry of the last MECA in September 2013.

That DHBs/RDA MECA offer is for a 13-month contract backdated to January this year and includes a lump sum payment of $750-950 on ratification, a one per cent pay increase for registrars and house officers effective from 8 Dec 2014 and a 0.75 per cent pay increase on 30 November 2015

Last year nearly 12,000 Public Service Association members working at DHBs, including mental health and public health nurse PSA members, voted to reject a 0.7 per cent pay offer (or 1.5 per cent over an approximately two year contract) and go on strike.

The strike action was called off in August and nurses voted to accept a one year contract with a one-off lump sum payment of one per cent of their base salary and a 0.7 per cent pay rise on April 30 2015 on their eight step pay scale. The 12-month contract expires on April 30.

The last DHBs/NZNO MECA was settled in March 2012 with nurses agreeing to a 4.5 per cent pay deal stretched over three years. The deal started with a two per cent pay increase backdated from March 1 2012, followed by a 1.5 per cent increase on March 1 2013 and a one per cent increase on March 1 2014.

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