Nearly 30,000 nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants will walk off the job for 24 hours on July 5 unless last-ditch efforts by DHBs and the New Zealand Nurses Organisation to make a deal are successful.
The NZNO announced at 1pm this afternoon that its DHB members had voted, after a year of negotiations and simmering frustration, to strongly reject the 20 DHBs’ third pay offer.
The NZNO’s DHB members voted in March in favour of issuing strike notices for July 5 and July 12 and on Wednesday a fortnight’s notice of 24-hour strike action for July 5 is to be lodged by NZNO.
But NZNO’s industrial services manager Cee Payne said as nursing and midwifery were essential services urgent efforts were now underway to try and avert strike action. NZNO hoped to be able to go into mediation before the weekend, if possible.
The Health Minister Dr David Clark has said in a statement that he was disappointed at the nurses’ rejection of the offer and that the Government had gone as far as it could in terms of extra money for a nurses’ pay settlement. He added he hoped the offer – worth more than $500 million over three years – could be “reconfigured in a way that nurses were happy with” and urged both parties to work towards finding a settlement.
The rejected pay offer was seen by many nurses as falling short of catching up with a decade of minor pay rises, major increases in nursing responsibility and growing safe staffing concerns. It was also seen to create winners and losers, with enrolled nurses, senior nurses and nurse practitioners and healthcare assistants getting the equivalent of a 9 per cent pay increase over three years, while nurses at the top of the registered nurse scale would receive the equivalent of more than 15 per cent.
Meanwhile Payne said it has emailed all its nearly 30,000 NZNO DHB members with an online poll seeking urgent feedback on what DHBs would need to include in any last-minute offer to be able to avert strike action and resolve the dispute.
The DHBs have said they will do everything they can to settle the agreement and find a way to prevent industrial action. In a statement DHB spokesperson Helen Mason said nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants are a highly respected part of the team and it was “extremely concerned” about the threat of industrial action. She also said that the rejected offer was an “excellent” one that included a $38 million commitment to an additional 500 nurses to address workforce demands, plus funding to support the implementation of the safe staffing CCDM (care capacity demand management) programme.
Payne told Nursing Review that it received about 3000 responses from DHB NZNO members within an hour of sending out the online survey. The survey, which closes on Thursday, asks members to rank the importance of a number of pay issues (the lump sum, pay scale steps and pay rise levels), and includes questions around the safe staffing components of the offer, the length of term and the proposed pay equity negotiation and settlement process.
She said if mediation and a last push to resolve the dispute did lead to a revised DHB offer that the negotiating team believed could meet members’ concerns, it was possible to legally to overrule the requirements for face-to-face ratification meetings and put the offer to members via an online ballot. She said the option of online ballots was available if it was “impracticable” or “undemocratic” to require in-person ratification meetings.
The DHBs began contingency planning in late March and NZNO and the DHBs have been meeting to discuss the Code of good faith for public health sector requirement to ensure that life-preserving services are available to prevent a serious threat to life or permanent disability during any strike action.
The last major strike action in the DHB sector was when about 3,000 house officers and registrars covered by the NZ Resident Doctors’ Association (RDA) and 20 District Health Boards Collective Agreement took three days of strike action in January 2017 and 48 hours in October 2016 over a call for safer rosters. The proposed July nurses strike would involve NZNO members, who make up the majority of the DHBs’ 27,000 nursing workforce.
The first and last nationwide strike by public hospital nurses was in 1989, when nurses who were members of the then New Zealand Nurses’ Association and the Public Service Association (PSA) took strike action on February 14. The passing of the Employment Contracts Act 1991 saw the breakdown of national bargaining, and regional NZNO strikes followed in 1992-93 in areas such as Auckland and Nelson-Marlborough. The decade ended with a three-day strike in 1999 by Waikato nurses, and the last NZNO public hospital strike was held in Christchurch in 2001.
Mental health nurses from 15 hospitals and units who were PSA members took strike action in 2004.