Violence in the workplace along with pay and “terrible” staff shortages are on the agenda of PSA mental health nurses pay talks that are yet to receive or reject an offer from district health boards.

The 20 DHBs are currently in a stalemate with the about 27,000 nurses, midwives and health care assistants covered by the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) collective agreement over pay and safe staffing with strike action also likely if there is not a breakthrough shortly.  The Public Service Association (PSA) has come out in support of NZNO members rejecting the DHBs pay offer and said the current dispute was the result of a decade of joint campaigning around workloads and pay, leading up to last year’s joint election campaign around the underfunding of health.

About 3000 mental health and public nurses are covered by the Public Service Association’s (PSA) two nursing agreements with negotiations getting underway for the first of those agreements nearly five months ago – a few months after the NZNO talks.

Warwick Jones, PSA’s Assistant National Secretary, said PSA DHB members had raised the same issues as NZNO staff around insufficient staffing undermining the quality of patient care and leading to staff fatigue and burnout.

“They have told us countless stories of unfilled vacancies, unpaid overtime, unsafe working environments and struggles with fatigue, stress and burnout,” said Jones.

MH nurses yet to receive offer

Ashok Shankar, a PSA national organiser for the DHB sector, said the nursing talks had yet to get to the point of receiving an offer for members to reject or accept but had similar themes to the NZNO nursing talks, with workload issues and pay being major issues.

He said mental health nursing shortages were “quite terrible” in the Auckland region and Christchurch particular which were both difficult places to recruit mental health staff.

“The other major issue in mental health is the violence and aggression that our members are now having to cope with a lot more,” said Shankar. “We are trying to find ways in which those matters can be addressed in the workplace as well.”

Shankar said PSA’s pay campaign had been low-key to date with both parties interested in how the DHBs’ offer to NZNO progressed. “We now just have to strike out very quickly on our own,” said Shankar with PSA seeking new nursing bargaining dates with the 20 DHBs this month.

He said PSA was also vigorously pursuing a pay equity claim for its nursing members as well as its clerical/administration, allied health and technical staff members.

The first of the PSA nursing multi-employer collective agreements (MECAs) – covering all of the country except the Auckland region – expired on September 30 last year and the Auckland MECA expired in mid-December. The two PSA nursing MECAs cover workforces with a combined annual payroll of around $217 million.

Further pay talks are also underway between the DHBs and PSA over the allied health and technical staff and the clerical staff agreements; with the Resident Doctors’ Association over the junior doctors’ agreement; and midwives covered by the College of Midwives’ MERAS union (Midwifery Employee Representation and Advisory Service).

A DHBs spokesperson confirmed that talks were continuing positively with the Public Service Association, Resident Doctors’ Association and MERAS.



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