Nurses and healthcare workers across the country will stop work for 24 hours on Thursday.

The New Zealand Nurses’ Organisation has confirmed members voted to reject the latest  District Health Boards Nursing and Midwifery Multi-Employer Collective Agreement offer.

Industrial services manager Cee Payne said voter turnout was very high and the result was closer than last time.

Industrial action would now go ahead on as planned, with a nationwide 24 hour strike starting at 7am Thursday and finishing at 7am Friday.

Payne said there are potentially more than 30,000 NZNO members involved in the strike.

However, she said many staff covered by the DHB MECA had agreed to provide life preserving services over the duration of the strike.

“Life preserving services and contingency plans are coming to completion with the twenty district health boards. We are confident that these will be in place as patient safety and public safety is paramount.”

Chief executive Memo Musa said he sympathised with patients whose surgeries had been postponed or cancelled.

“It has not been an easy decision for our members. Our focus and our efforts will be to continue to ensure public confidence that life preserving services are in place.”

Yesterday the DHBs requested further facilitation, ahead of NZNO knowing the outcome of the vote.

Payne said that because there were no more funds for an improved offer, it was not clear that facilitation was the “appropriate forum” at the time.

“The issues faced and reported by our members have arisen from a decade of severe underfunding of our public hospitals which have failed to keep pace with growing community need, the ageing population and workforce, and increased costs.”

However the Employment Relations Authority ordered NZNO to continue with facilitation starting this afternoon and continuing tomorrow morning if necessary.

Musa said NZNO would continue to work with the DHBs.

“To our members, we have heard you. We will go back to the DHBs for facilitation and we will try and find a pathway to resolve your issues.

“It is our responsibility. We will work with members to support them and that decision.”

DHBs spokeswoman Helen Mason said it was disappointed nurses had rejected the offer.

“WE RESPECT NURSES RIGHT TO STRIKE IN SUPPORT OF THEIR CLAIMS, WE ALSO NEED TO RECOGNISE THAT NEGOTIATION INVOLVES A DEGREE OF COMPROMISE – WE HAVE MOVED SIGNIFICANTLY OVER THE LAST SIX MONTHS AND HAVE MADE AN EXCELLENT OFFER.”

She said the DHBs’ primary concern now was ensuring the safety of patients and staff.

She said hospitals around the country were very busy at this time of year and had already experienced significant disruption as a result of deferring services in the lead up to the last threatened strike and the action planned for Thursday.

“Nurses are highly skilled professionals and those skills cannot be easily replaced. DHBs and nurses have an obligation to provide emergency and essential services, although we will be under pressure to provide the same care in the same way.

“It’s still not too late to prevent this disruption and we urge the NZNO and its members to help us try and find a way forward.”

Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters said the Government was “naturally” very disappointed with the result of negotiations.

“We approached the negotiations in a positive way. The Government’s offer would have heralded the highest pay increase by far in 14 long years.”

He urged NZNO and DHBs to continue with urgent talks.

“There is still time to avert industrial action.”

“We are confident that the professionalism of our nurses will see them support the urgent needs of DHBs on Thursday.”

Peters said it was the first time nurses had walked off the job in more than a generation.

“Their frustration and anger has built up over many years. But we can’t fix everything in one pay round.”

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