23 Apr 2018

'Why train to be a nurse ... if you're being paid less than a caregiver'

8:28 am on 23 April 2018

Nurses begin voting on whether to back a nationwide strike today, even as an independent panel attempts to resolve the pay dispute.

Nurses protest at Middlemore Hospital.

Nurses protesting at Auckland's Middlemore hospital this month. Photo: RNZ / Jessie Chiang

Some 27,000 hospital nurses will receive ballot papers online and by post from today and begin voting on the strike.

An independent panel met for the first time last week to resolve the pay impasse between nurses and their employers. The nurses' union flagged the strikes plan during the panel process and confirmed it last week.

The two possible day-long strikes were proposed for 5 and 12 July.

The Nurses Organisation union expected to know the result by 25 May, which would be not long after it receives a new pay offer from DHBs following the panel's work.

Nurses said strikes would be a last resort.

The DHBs said they understood and were committed to exploring all options for a settlement.

Union industrial services manager Cee Payne told Morning Report nurses did not want to have to wait for the independent panel's findings in case it was not successful.

"We've been very clear with our members all along that we will continue to have the industrial action ballot," she said.

"We can't necessarily rely on the panel, obviously we're making submissions to the panel but they're free to make their own recommendations to the government. If that recommendation isn't suitable or adequate or doesn't meet the needs of our members we don't want to continue to delay this dispute, we need to move forward.

"If they reject it then we're in the position to move forward as we were, we said it would not interrupt our independent bargaining process."

She said New Zealand nurses needed to be paid more after the equal pay settlement the government reached with caregivers.

"We've got some big pressures on our scale coming from the care and support workers settlement. The impact of that has meant that by [2019] that scale will move right up into our scale of our registered nurses scale.

"Why train to be a nurse, why take out the cost of a degree if you're being paid less than a caregiver?"

She said the union was not required to operate in good faith with employers regarding the independent panel process.

"We've been very clear with employers, who are also party to the independent panel process, but it's not strictly a bargaining process."

"The outcome of that process will be determined by the panel, and when they make their recommendation it's up to them - the DHBs - to decide. We come back into bargaining to decide whether they want to make us an offer and what that offer will be.

"We need to have good faith with our own members. That's a priority for us."

"What we have been doing and will continue to do is produce evidence for the panel of where we think nurses' pay needs to be.

"We want to be really clear about this, we've been evidence-based all the way."

She said the general public had been very supportive and had been backing the nurses.

"We've had no negative feedback from the public," she said.

"I feel that people know that nurses do need a genuine decent pay lift if we're going to have nurses in this country."

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