More than 20 nurses and health care assistants from Te Puia Rural Hospital and seven primary health clinic took unprecedented 24 hour strike action this week.
The nurses’ action, that finished at 7am on November 28, was prompted by a breakdown earlier this month in the collective agreement talks between Ngāti Porou Hauora (NPH), the New Zealand Nurses Organisation and three other unions representing 67 nurses, midwives, HCAs, service and food workers, clerical, professional, IT, technical and trade staff – or about half of NPH’s staff.
Mediation in mid-November failed to resolve the nurses’ longstanding concerns about pay parity between nurses like themselves, working for iwi and Māori health providers, and nurses working for other government-funded health providers – particularly DHBs where nurses with the same experience can earn $14,000 more.
Ongoing frustration at the pay gap saw New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) representatives speaking out at the Waitangi Tribunal last month about their concerns about pay parity and over institutional racism leading to underfunding of Māori health.
The Ngāti Porou Hauora (NPH) nurses strike is believed to be the first time that any iwi or Māori health provider nurses have taken strike action during the decade-long campaign to close the about 25 per cent pay gap between iwi and district health board nurses.
NPH, in a statement released prior to mediation, said that the major pay issue was pay parity with DHB nurses but NPH, as an iwi-owned charitable trust, did not receive the same level of Government funding provided to DHBs.
“We appreciate that there are disparities between the DHB and NPH nurse rates, and it is a nation-wide issue for NGOs and especially small organisations like ourselves working within the context of our collective agreement.”
Speaking prior to the strike Christina Couling, the NZNO organiser, said it was not an easy decision for the nurses to strike with many of them Ngāti Porou themselves who had chosen to continue working for NPH because they wanted to serve their people.But the ongoing low pay was seen as unsustainable as it was impacting on NPH’s ability to recruit new nurses – particularly to Te Puia Rural Hospital which is a 24 hour residential aged care and emergency health service facility.
She said NPH’s pre-mediation offer amounted to no more than two percent, with some staff being offered no increase at all. The Gisborne Herald reported Couling as saying that a post-mediation offer would now go out to NZNO members for ratification but when members saw the offer they had been clear they wanted the strike to still go ahead.