Union labels DHBs’ court action a 'cynical move'

9:42 pm on 2 March 2022

By Alisha Evans Local Democracy reporter

A "mix of outrage, disappointment and despair" is how allied scientific and technical healthcare workers are feeling after the news a court injunction has been filed to prevent their strike action.

Cancer research. Laboratory developing therapeutic vaccines for the treatment of lung cancer by stimulating the immune system.

File pic Photo: AFP / Amelie Benoist / Image Point Fr

Members of the Public Service Association (PSA), the union which represents 10,000 workers, across New Zealand's 20 district health boards, are forging ahead with plans to hit the picket line from 6am on Friday, for 24 hours.

The workers had asked for higher pay, equal treatment with other health professions, and action on safe staffing and retention.

Some of the 70 professions represented by PSA included anaesthetic technicians, laboratory workers, dieticians, alcohol and drug clinicians and pharmacists.

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Late on Tuesday the DHBs announced they had asked the Employment Court to stop the planned strike, that would see a range of hospital, community and outpatient services postponed.

PSA organiser Will Matthews told Local Democracy Reporting the injunction was to be heard under urgency on Thursday.

"Unless the court says otherwise we are proceeding with our planning for the pickets," he said.

"Workers do not want to strike but they have had enough and this is their last resort. We have no options left."

Matthews said since telling members the news of the injunction they had expressed their anger and despair.

"We've had people saying, 'This is the last straw, I'm looking online for what other jobs are available'," he said.

DHB spokesperson Keriana Brooking said these were unprecedented times and patient services should not be used for bargaining leverage.

"Omicron has completely changed the normal operating environment," Brooking said.

"Infection rates have increased dramatically and so has the pressure on DHB delivered hospital and community services."

She said DHBs had asked the PSA to lift the strike notices and had facilitation with the Employment Relations Authority set down for next Monday and Tuesday.

"We need to give that process a chance before disrupting patient services just as Omicron is peaking," she said.

"Our hand has been forced and we owe it to our patients, and other health workers to try and prevent further disruption to health services if we can."

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With Omicron surging now is not the time for strike action in the health system, Keriana Brooking says. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Matthews disagreed: "DHBs have had 15 months to come to the table with a decent offer and they have failed to do that."

"We have been keeping our lines of communication open and have taken every step to make sure there are enough staff at work on Friday.

"Going to the courts at the last minute is a cynical move," he said.

"What we've got now is a workforce of exhausted, overworked, underpaid and undervalued people who are now seeing clearly, that their employers would rather take them to court than have a conversation about paying them fairly," said Matthews.

He said the court action would make things worse in the long-term.

Brooking was quick to reassure people acute and emergency services would be available during the strike.

"If someone does need urgent hospital care, they shouldn't delay getting help."

In the Bay of Plenty between 400 and 450 workers at Tauranga and Whakatāne Hospitals would be part of the strike action.

During this time there would be no planned care in the hospitals' theatres, with only emergency theatres operating throughout the strike.

Any non-medical outpatient appointments planned for this period would also be rescheduled and patients were in the process of being notified.

Local Democracy Reporting is a public interest news service supported by RNZ, the News Publishers' Association and NZ On Air.

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