The ‘carrot’ of a pay equity deal sometime in the future was not enough for nurses who have rejected the 20 district health boards’ pay offer in the biggest voter turnout in a decade.
The DHBs’ offer – that had been endorsed by the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) negotiating team – had been widely criticised in social media by some of the 27,000 nurses, midwives and health care assistant members of NZNO covered by the proposed deal.
The pay offer – a two per cent increase, backdated to November 6, for the majority of nurses and midwives covered by the MECA and further two per cent pay rise in August 2018 and August 2019 –appeared to be seen as too little too late. The offer also included a small lump sum of $350 and an agreement in principle by the 20 DHBs to progressing a pay equity claim with negotiations to begin in the year. (See details of the rejected offer here)
Harry acknowledged that the members rejection reflected their views that the offer “failed to respect nurses, midwives and health car assistants and the huge effort and value they bring to patients and our communities”. She said the next formal step was likely to be mediation between NZNO and the DHBs. Nursing Review has sought comment from the DHBs’ negotiating team spokesperson but they had not responded at this point.
Nurses on social media had expressed disappointment and frustration that the DHBs’ offer was about or below inflation, it didn’t reflect growing pressures and responsibilities placed on nurses in the workplace and it wouldn’t reinstate the pay relativity lost by this year’s $2 billion pay equity settlement to care and support workers in the aged care and disability sector.
Harry also acknowledged that it appeared members did not have confidence that the agreement in principle by DHBs to start pay equity negotiations would see extra money in their pockets soon.
“I think members lost a lot of trust and confidence over the years of austerity,” said Harry. She said the negotiating team had supported the DHBs pay offer on the basis of the DHBs seeing merit in the pay equity claim and the new government’s support of pay equity.
“The negotiating team were certainly more optimistic (about the likelihood of getting a pay equity settlement) than the feedback we’ve got from members,” said Harry. “And we will take the opportunity between now and we get to meet with our members next to fully inform them of what the pay equity process is.”
Harry would not disclose whether voters resoundingly or narrowly rejected the offer. But she did say it was pleased with the turnout at the 400 meetings held across DHBs in the past few weeks which was probably the highest turnout in more than a decade.
Posters on social media in the past few weeks – both for and against the offer – had called on nurses to turn up to meetings to be briefed on the details and make their voice count.
Harry said anecdotally it had a sense of what offer might be acceptable for members but it was first going to canvas members, via an electronic survey, so the negotiating team could be “absolutely confident” on what members would be prepared to ratify. The aim was to post the survey before Christmas.
She said the timing of the mediation was not known yet but NZNO was setting up a series of member meetings in late February that would either be follow-up meetings to discuss next steps or “all going well” might have a ratifiable offer to put to members by then.
“Of course nurses and DHB employers will be doing their best to reach an employment agreement acceptable to both parties,” said Harry.
“Consideration of industrial action will only occur if NZNO and DHBs cannot achieve a resolution of the issues members have raised,” Harry confirmed.