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District health boards prepare for strikes

Nurses and teachers are pushing the Government for massive pay increases, but it is rejecting their claims on the grounds of being fiscally responsible, for now

Health Minister David Clark said the district health boards’ pay offer rejected by nurses and midwives yesterday was the best the Government could support and that the health system was “preparing for the worst”.

Clark spoke to journalists at yesterday's post-cabinet media conference after news emerged that nurses had rejected the DHBs' most recent pay offer. 

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said the half a billion dollar offer was “the largest offer to that group of workers in over 14 years”.

The deal 

On May 29, negotiators offered nurses a nine percent increase in pay across all scales over 15 months, as well as a $2000 lump sum payment and a two percent increase in staff levels.

The package also included two new pay levels, which took nurses in the top band to a base salary of $77,386 by December. It also committed to having a pay-equity agreement “developed” by November 2019. 

These measures were part of a $520 million package, which was rejected by the union representing nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants. 

Clark said it was “the best offer we’ve been able to support”.

“The majority of nurses under the deal, if they were full-time nurses would be $10, 000 better off within 18 months,” Clark said. 

“It really is the extent of what has been available, we’ve been clear about that,” he said. 

Both sides will now head to mediation and facilitation in a bid to avoid a strike. 

DHBs prepared for strikes

Clark said DHBs were “prepared for the worst,” should a strike occur. 

“I can assure people that life preserving services planning is well advanced.”

“The nurses and DHBs are working constructively on how those life preserving services will be put in place. Emergency services will be working as usual and so on,” he said.

New Zealand Nurses Organisation CEO Memo Musa said strike action was still on the table, but was a last resort.

NZNO members had previously voted to strike on July 5 and 12, to run for 24 hours from 7am, but that was dependent on results from the new collective agreement offer. 

On Wednesday, the NZNO will give formal notice to DHB chief executives for the 5th July strike. Notice for the 12 July strike will be given on June 27.

NZNO industrial relations manager Cee Payne would not name a figure that would satisfy nurses’ needs and avert strike action.

"We didn't give them a figure that would settle it ... but we talked about the figure of difference between a secondary teacher and a registered nurse at the top of the scale, and that gap equated to 11 percent,” RNZ reported her as saying. 

Pressure mounts 

The Government has claimed that public sector pay has been neglected for nine years under the previous National-led government. 

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said the Government had inherited  “nine years of under-investment in our public services and public servant wages”.

“Our offers to date across the public service have been higher than that which was offered by National,” he said. 

Pressure is mounting on the Government to meet the growing demands of the public sector. As well as nurses, more than 4000 public service workers at IRD and MBIE are deliberating whether to strike in July.

The most recent Human Resources Capability Survey conducted by the State Services Commission found that by 30 June 2017, private sector wage growth had outpaced that in the public sector. 

Public sector wages had increased by 10.9 percent over a seven-year period, compared with 14.0 percent in the private sector. Public sector wage growth picked up in 2016, however, and up until June 2017 public sector wage growth had exceeded growth in the private sector. 

Broken down, public sector wages increased by 10.5 percent in education, 10.0 percent in health, and 9.4 percent in the public service. 

The CPI, a measure of the rising cost of living, increased by 9.6 percent over the same period.

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