Winston Peters says nurses don’t want to strike

Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters has come dangerously close to suggesting nurses who are happy with the Government’s offer should break the planned strike.

Nurses have rejected the latest offer from DHBs and are set to strike on Thursday for 24 hours, the first time it has happened in 30 years.

Voting on the tweaked $520 million offer closed last night and this morning the New Zealand Nurses Organisation announced its members had voted to refuse the offer.

As a result, elective surgeries scheduled for Thursday will be postponed, although an agreement has been reached to provide life-preserving services.

The DHBs have asked to now go into facilitated bargaining, run by the Employment Relations Authority, and both parties are bound to consider any recommendations although they are not bound to agree to them.

In a hastily-arranged press conference, Peters said the Government was disappointed in the decision after approaching the negotiations in a positive way.

He said there was still time to avert the strike and he encouraged talks to continue.

“This will be the first time nurses have walked off the job in more than a generation. That’s a sad reflection of years of underfunding and neglect by the previous Government.”

There was no more money available and the surplus had to be protected to pay for threats such as mycoplasma bovis, he said.

Peters said little would be achieved by the nurses striking.

“We’re not here to pass judgment, there are thousands of nurses that don’t want to go on strike … what would they be striking for? When it’s all over, we’re back to where we started.”

When asked to clarify whether he was suggesting nurses break the picket line he skated backwards.

“No I’m not saying that, I’m saying you don’t have to go on strike, be reasonable about it."

In an apparent nod to the potential political damage the strike could cause the new coalition Government, Peters said the nurses would be worse off if they ended up back under a National Government.

"You could face the consequences - which is the previous Government you had, and nothing.”

When the initial offer was made, Health Minister David Clark said it was the maximum that could be offered.

National’s health spokesman Michael Woodhouse said the strike was a result of the high expectations raised by the Government while in opposition.

“It’s clear that nurses were unhappy with the Government simply shifting the deck chairs on the original offer and they have now decided to push for more Government money.

“The nurses were also frustrated that the Government entered the facilitation process saying ‘that’s all the money there is’ and this is the effect of it. This move did not reflect good faith bargaining and it is now unclear how the situation will be resolved."

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