8 Jan 2019

Midwives settlement reached, but still under wraps

9:12 am on 8 January 2019

A settlement has been reached between community midwives and the Ministry of Health, but will stay under wraps until at least Friday.

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Photo: RNZ / Charlie Dreaver

A confidential email obtained by RNZ shows the College of Midwives (NZCOM) and the Ministry of Health agreed on a settlement for community midwives on 21 December.

The settlement relates to an on-going dispute between community midwives and the Ministry of Health over claims they were being discriminated against because they are mostly women, the Midwives Union (MERAS) co-leader Jill Ovens said.

"That went to the High Court, it ended up in mediation process with the Ministry of Health. The Ministry of Health agreed to a co-design process where they would try and calculate what would be a fair remuneration process for the self-employed midwives."

In the email to midwives, sent on 21 December, NZCOM chief executive Karen Guilliland confirmed a settlement had been reached that day.

"Your team believes this new agreement redresses the Ministry's breach and has left us feeling positive about a favourable outcome for the 2019 budget while we reconfigure the new funding agreement," the email said.

Ms Guilliland then said a joint-statement had been drafted, which they had hoped to release that day in December.

"However, this afternoon the Ministry has informed us that due to the Christmas timing of the mediation agreement they are unable to release any public statement as senior government Ministers have not had the opportunity to read it as their offices are now closed.

"Although we appreciate this is frustrating for members, we are viewing this as a positive signal that at last we have the attention and interest of senior members of the government."

The email said the Ministry aimed to release the public statement around Friday 11 January, when Ministers had returned to work.

In a statement, the Ministry of Health said it had not been able to brief the government on the outcome of the mediation, which related to the co-design process.

It will announce the outcome once the government is informed.

Community midwives vs DHB midwives

Community midwives or lead maternity carers (LMCs) are separate from District Health Board-funded midwives, who last year went on strike after rejecting a nine percent pay increase, which was given to nurses.

Midwives begin rolling strike action, demanding better recognition

Midwives begin rolling strike action, demanding better recognition Photo: RNZ / YouTube

The head of the union's negotiators Caroline Conroy said at the time, midwifery was a separate profession that deserved a different pay scale from nurses.

They are yet to reach a settlement, Ms Ovens said, but DHBs had agreed to urgent facilitation through the Employment Relations Authority. This was planned to begin this week or next.

She said if the parties do not reach a settlement, there would be further strike action next month.

Ms Ovens said if the community midwives were to get a substantial increase, that would create a distortion in the profession.

"If the self-employment midwives were to get a substantial increase in their funding, while the employed midwives are stuck on the low wages that they are on right now, then you can imagine most people who are employed by DHBs would be looking at self-employment as an option for them. And in fact that is happening."

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