Public Hospital nurse pay talks underway

3 February 2015

Safe staffing is high on the agenda for national nurse pay talks underway as the days tick down to the current public hospital pay agreement expiring on 28 February.

The first formal negotiation days were held on 27 and 28 January as the New Zealand Nurses Organisation and the 20 district health boards seek to renew 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, health care assistants and hospital aides.

Lesley Harry, NZNO industrial advisor for the pay talks, said both parties had tabled the issues they wished to discuss during the negotiations, including pay.

"We know that the parameters for public sector bargaining is 0.7 per cent and that's been set by the State Services Commission," said Harry. "So we know we've got a long way to go before we resolve all our issues."

She said the pay claim made was a general one and was relative to pay parity with benchmarked occupational groups, including police, teachers and medical radiation technologists. Harry said NZNO was more interested in emulating the longer pay scales of these occupations than the current NZNO six-step basic pay scale.

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

She said NZNO is keen to see more action on implementing the safe staffing Care Capacity Demand Management tools in more DHBs. "The DHBs are coming online slowly … but it is way too slow for our liking."

By the end of last year 12 of the 20 DHBs had started to implement the tools developed five years ago by the joint Safe Staffing Healthy Workplace Unit, which was the culmination of a safe staffing push begun a decade ago during the 2004 MECA negotiations. 

"We still haven't got a DHB that is populated throughout its system. Bay of Plenty DHB is probably the standout."

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