18 Jul 2018

Nurses' union, DHBs pledge more negotiations

3:46 pm on 18 July 2018

Nurses and their employers today pledged to continue bargaining to find a way through their complex impasse over pay and staffing.

Nurses strike and rally. march down Queen St and meet at Aotea Square

A rally in Auckland during the 24-hour nurses strike on 12 July. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

In their first, brief comments since six hours of talks ended in Wellington yesterday, both the nurses' union and district health boards said they were "focused on reaching a settlement through bargaining".

Nurses walked off the job for 24 hours nationwide last Thursday in a deepening row over pay and staffing primarily.

The nurses said they would meet again for further talks next Tuesday.

They added later that DHB representatives "expect to be able to present a revised offer to the team" that day.

Both sides said yesterday's talks were about "exploring options to settle the current employment negotiations".

It's a sign that, for the meantime at least, effort is going into where a settlement might lie, given the union's insistence that more money will be needed to boost the $520 million available for a settlement, against the government's refusal to boost funding now.

Safe staffing, or the lack of it, has emerged as the top issue for nurses. That's been highlighted further by their comments since the strike that staffing levels during the stoppage appeared higher than normal rosters allow.

However, that's been rejected as incorrect by DHBs.

Pay equity - another interest of nurses - was already strengthened in the latest offer with a commitment that it would be implemented by 31 December 2019.

Neither side will comment while bargaining is continuing about where a solution might lie. However Health Minister David Clark sparked interest last Friday when he said there would be no more money from the government for salaries, omitting to add the word staffing. Could that mean DHBs at least would consider extra funding, probably in "out-years", from next July, for improved staffing?

If so, could it be done through the Care Capacity Demand Management scheme? And, would it meet nurses' needs, when many distrust DHB promises? They're among many questions confronting both nurses and their employers as they seek to settle their multi-employer collective agreement before it lapses on 1 August.