Today is the final day for nurses to vote on whether to accept the DHBs’ latest pay offer or issue a strike notice for nearly 30,000 nurses, midwives and health care assistants to walk off the job on July 5.
After a year of negotiations and simmering frustration it will be revealed on Monday whether the third offer from the 20 District Health Boards to the New Zealand Nurses Organisation meets or doesn’t meet the majority of nurses’ longstanding concerns about safe staffing and pay rates built-up over a decade of increasing workloads and patient complexity.
If a simple majority of NZNO’s nearly 30,000 DHB members reject the offer the union has indicated that the next step is issuing a strike noticefor a 24-hour strike on July 5.
Cee Payne, industrial advisor for the New Zealand Nurses Organisation, said ballot results from meetings were still being collated and counted and this would continue over the weekend with the results released publicly on Monday afternoon.
Nursing social media remains mixed over the offer, with many calling for strike action saying the offer falls short of catching up with a decade of minor pay rises and major increases in nursing responsibility. It is also being seen by some as a deal creating ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ with the majority of the NZNO members (about 20,000) being on the registered nurse/midwives scale that will benefit the most from the latest offer.
About 15,000 of those inpatient RNs and RMs are at the top of the current five-step basic pay scale, and the DHBs are offering to add two extra steps to that scale. The impact of those extra steps – on top of the planned 3 x 3 per cent pay increases and $2000 lump sum being offered to all NZNO members – will equate to a 15 per cent pay increase over the three-year term, which is about an extra $200 a week by December 2019. (See offer details here.)
Senior nurses, enrolled nurses, healthcare assistants (HCAs) and community nurses and midwives (who already have an eight-step pay scale) are being offered the standard 9 per cent over three years and the pro rata $2000 lump sum. Nurses on the senior nurse pay scale (which is for nurses appointed to senior roles who usually aren’t eligible for penalty rates and overtime) will also get a one-off 1 per cent increase on ratification of the proposed agreement. (See offer details and sample pay here.)
NZNO acknowledged that the offer’s proposed pay equity process would have to ensure that salary steps were also adjusted for the senior and community RN/RM, enrolled nurse and HCA pay scales, in order to maintain pay relativity between these members and their 15,000 or so colleagues who would immediately benefit from the proposed additional steps to the RN/RM basic pay scale.
The DHBs’ offer was based on the recommendations of the Independent Panel set up to try and help avert a winter strike – including an extra $38 million to immediately boost nursing staff numbers to address safe staffing concerns – but with the addition of the two extra pay steps on the RN/RM basic pay scale
The DHBs’ spokesperson Helen Mason said at the time she was optimistic that the DHBs’ third offer would be accepted by NZNO members as the $520m package was “a significant increase” that went beyond the recommendations of the Independent Panel and the DHB’s previous two-year deal offer.
The release of the DHBs offer to the media prior to nurses – and the DHBs’ selection of pay examples – caused a major backlash on social media from nurses and an apology from Mason – a nurse who is the chief executive of Bay of Plenty DHB.
“I understand that you were not comfortable with the example that was used, and am told that the DHBs’ earlier message has not sufficiently addressed your concerns,” said Mason in a message to NZNO members.
“We recognise that there are many different rosters and hours of work arrangements,” she said. “We see the NZNO now has a Base Salary calculator on its website showing movement of individual base rates. The DHBs’ support this approach and we strongly encourage you to take the time to visit the NZNO website to see what the proposed offer would mean for you.”
The last major strike action in the DHB sector was when about 3,000 house officers and registrars covered by the NZ Resident Doctors’ Association (RDA) and 20 District Health Boards Collective Agreement took three days of strike action in January 2017 and 48 hours in October 2016 over a call for safer rosters. The proposed July nurses strike would involve NZNO members who make up the majority of the DHBs’ 27,000 nursing workforce.
The first and last nationwide strike by public hospital nurses was in 1989, when nurses who were members of the then New Zealand Nurses’ Association and the Public Service Association (PSA) took strike action on February 14. The passing of the Employment Contracts Act 1991 saw the breakdown of national bargaining, and regional NZNO strikes followed in 1992-93 in areas like Auckland and Nelson-Marlborough. The decade ended with a three-day strike in 1999 by Waikato nurses, and the last NZNO public hospital strike was held in Christchurch in 2001.
Mental health nurses from 15 hospitals and units who were PSA members took strike action in 2004.