About 20 nurses and health care assistants are joining a 24 hour strike on November 27 by staff of the iwi provider Ngāti Porou Hauora after a breakdown in their collective agreement talks.
Ongoing frustration at the pay gap – between nurses working for iwi and Māori health providers and nurses working for other government-funded health providers – 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 decision this week by NZNO staff at Ngāti Porou Hauora (NPH) to take strike action 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.
Kerri Nuku, NZNO’s Kaiwhakahaere, says registered nurses working for NPH earn $14,000 per year less than their colleagues working in district health boards (DHBs) and enrolled nurses working for NPH earn less than HCAs whose wages are covered by the Pay Equity Settlement Act.
Christina Couling, the NZNO organiser, says 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 she says the ongoing low pay had become unsustainable with NPH struggling to recruit new nurses which meant some primary health care clinic nurses were working a full week and then being asked to cover shifts at Te Puia Rural Hospital over the weekend. NPH runs the hospital, (which has a residential aged care facility and 24 hour emergency health services) plus seven primary health clinics in Gisborne and across the East Coast, as well as offering rural/district nursing and mental health nursing services.
NZNO said NPH’s current offer amounts to no more than two percent, with some staff being offered no increase at all. It said last year staff narrowly voted to accept a zero percent pay increase but now say they have had enough of being poorly paid and want to be treated fairly and with the respect they deserve.
NPH has been contacted for comment by Nursing Review but had yet to respond. It is understood that the parties will go to mediation on Monday.
Rural health nurse Gina Chaffey-Aupouri (Ngāti Porou) said NPH nurses and health care assistants were caring people who were key to addressing the incredibly high health needs in the area.
“We just want to be paid the same as our colleagues working down the road who have the same qualifications and experience as we do,” she says.
“It’s just not fair to anybody. We already face so many barriers because we’re away from the main centres and we just can’t attract new staff when they can earn so much more working elsewhere. So we carry on, and we do the extra hours because we’re understaffed. We love and care for our people, but enough is enough and somebody has to stop and listen.”
Couling said the four unions involved (NZNO, the PSA, FIRST and E tū) want a fair pay increase for their members and a plan from NPH about how it will address stagnating wages and pay inequities between these and other nurses. No plan has been forthcoming despite negotiations having taken place for nearly a year.
“What we have here is another clear case of inequity and underinvestment in rural communities that have a significant proportion of Māori, and people in poverty with high health needs,” she says
“It’s fundamentally unjust when a DHB will not give its health providers the funding required to pay nurses at the same rate as nurses working in DHBs – despite them having the same qualifications, expertise and importance. It should not be left to hard-working, dedicated nurses to bear the brunt when finances are tight.”