DHB spokesperson Helen Mason, a registered nurse and chief executive of Bay of Plenty DHB, said that despite the NZNO announcing yesterday that members had “strongly rejected” the DHBs’ third offer she still believed it was an excellent offer.
“I’m optimistic that through mediation with NZNO we will find a way through this,” said Mason in an interview with Nursing Review. She said DHBs were “absolutely” ready to engage in mediation with NZNO to avert nearly 30,000 nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants (HCAs) walking off the job on a 24-hour strike on July 5. “As soon as NZNO are in a position to have a conversation, we want to be doing that,” said Mason, who said she was aware that NZNO wanted to survey its members first before any formal process.
Mason, who said she was proud to be from a long line of nurses, with her mother having nursed for 57 years, was last involved in planning a response to a localised nurses’ strike in the late 1990s, when she was the nurse manager of a casual nursing pool.
“In that scenario we had the option of transferring patients and we were able to use volunteers in very different ways than we can now,” she said. The response could also draw on retired nurses, or other non-working nurses who still had an annual practising certificate (APC), to come in and nurse during the strike. But this all changed with the advent of police vetting of volunteers, and nurses having to meet ongoing competency requirements to have a current APC.
“So we’re looking at a very, very different scenario from anything I was involved with previously.”
Mason said the DHBs would do everything they could to avoid industrial action. “Certainly we respect the NZNO members’ right to industrial action, but we’re working incredibly hard to avoid that.”
She said the 20 DHBs had been hoping for the best but planning for the worst, and was several months into contingency planning. Once the DHBs received the first strike notice – expected on Wednesday June 20 for the July 5 strike – it would “absolutely ramp up” those contingency plans.
“The thing I stress with contingency planning is that from our perspective patient safety is absolutely paramount. And the safety of our staff is equally important.”
She said contingency planning would be approached from both perspectives of “keeping our patients safe and keeping our staff safe”.
No more money on the table
Responding to Health Minister Dr David Clark’s comments that the Government had gone as “far as it could” in terms of extra money for the pay settlement Mason reiterated that she too thought the current $500 million offer – spread over three years – was an excellent offer.
She said the three by three per cent increases to base pay rates was a substantial increase but the offer was also about DHBs’ commitment to employing an additional 500 nurses immediately, implementing the care capacity demand management (CCDM) system and a commitment to pay equity.
The addition of two extra pay steps on the registered nurse/midwife (RN/RM) pay scale would also see the base pay rates of experienced, registered full-time nurses go from just under $66,755 now to $77,368 by December 2019.
When asked about the concerns raised by a number of NZNO members – that the offer was targeted at nurses on the top of the RN/RM pay scale at the expense of enrolled nurses, HCAs and senior nurses and nurse practitioners – Mason said she believed the three by three per cent pay increases and $2000 lump sum being offered to the whole workforce was still “substantive”.
“In terms of the focus on experienced nurses, we heard really strongly from NZNO … that that was the cohort that really needed special attention,” said Mason. “And in terms of the numbers, it’s the largest cohort – I think something like 15,000 of the 20,000 nurses will be impacted by that increased base rate for experienced nurses.”
Mason said the DHBs really wanted nurses, midwives and HCAs to know they were deeply committed to addressing safe staffing and pay equity concerns and had agreed to be held accountable to implementing the safe staffing recommendations.
There was a strong backlash from many NZNO members when the DHBs on May 28 decided to release its offer to the media before members had seen it and for the DHBs’ choice of pay scenarios, which many criticised for giving a misleading impression to the public of nurses’ incomes. Mason defended the DHBs’ decision to go public first, saying it was made in response to the high level of public interest and concern (about the dispute and potential strike action).
Mason grew up in Zimbabwe, trained as a nurse and midwife in South Africa, and gained an MBA in Scotland before coming to New Zealand in 1996 with her New Zealand-born husband. She began working at Tauranga Hospital about 20 years ago as a flexi-nurse before moving into management roles and eventually becoming the Bay of Plenty District Health Board chief executive in early 2016.