26 Apr 2019

Junior doctors to go on longest strike yet over rosters

12:30 pm on 26 April 2019

Striking junior doctors say they hope an upcoming five-day strike will help finally settle their row with district health boards.

Junior doctors strike in Wellington.

Photo: RNZ / Karen Brown

Members of the Resident Doctors' Association will walk off the job early Monday morning at all public hospitals except in Canterbury.

Canterbury has been excluded because of the recent terror attacks.

It's the fifth strike by the doctors over a failure by both sides to agree on proposed changes to the doctors' employment contract.

The main sticking point is that district health boards want hospital chief executives to have the final say over working arrangements - including rosters - rather than the union head office.

The Resident Doctors' Association said the boards were trying to roll back safer roster provisions they agreed to two years ago, and it was unacceptable.

RDA senior advocate David Munro said DHBs could prevent the strike going ahead if they wanted to.

"The opportunity to settle the agreement remains at any stage if the DHBs want to turn up and step back from their belligerent position which they've had since the 7th of March," Mr Munro said.

"They're giving no indication of that at this stage, so the RMOs [doctors] have been clear with us that a one-week strike is what they want to do to make sure the DHBs understand that they're very serious about defending their Mecca."

District Health Boards spokesperson Dr Peter Bramley said more strikes won't end the row.

"What's going to solve this is to actually keep talking ... we think there is a constructive way forward that doesn't require us to go down such a severe path as a five-day strike period which will have a significant impact."

"What we do need to see is the ability, at a local level, to make decision about the rosters that will support the best care and the best teamwork and the best training environment. At the moment, it's a one size fits all approach."

The Employment Relations Authority is providing urgent independent facilitation on May 9, 10, 13 and 14, however this would be after the next strike.

Key details:

This will be the longest strike by the doctors in the long-running row, considered unprecedented. RNZ understands strikes by another group, medical radiation technologists (MRTs) have been longer on occasions, but were partial rather than a full withdrawal of services for a period.

  • How many junior doctors work in public hospitals?
  • DHBs say there are around 4200 in total and on any given day about 3400 will be working.

    Junior doctors are also known as resident medical officers, or RMOs. They include members of the Resident Doctors Association (RDA); members of Specialty Trainees of New Zealand or SToNZ; and doctors who are not part of either union group.

    DHBs say that during the four strikes to date by RMOs, about half of all these doctors who would have been rostered on to work normally did still work. They add roughly two-thirds of those working (between 58 and 64 percent) are registrars (relatively senior junior doctors).

  • What is the row about?
  • The DHB employers want to change the employment agreement to ensure that any changes to rosters or other working arrangements in future can be approved at individual hospitals following agreement with the doctors affected. It says local flexibility is needed.

    They add DHB chief executives have responsibility and accountability for their hospitals and therefore need to be able to control the work environment at their DHB. They add that this will involve the RDA "giving up the ability to veto rosters and training arrangements agreed at a DHB level".

    The RDA says it does not oppose arrangements being designed and implemented on a local basis.

    However, its senior advocate, David Munro, said: "But the fact that the union is there to ensure that important protections are not overlooked or overruled during that process is something that's been there for the entire life of the MECA [multi-employer collective agreement] has worked well in the past and is something that the RMOs are not prepared to give away."

  • Is this row also about doctors' pay rates?
  • The doctors are being offered pay rises as part of the employment deal, but the dispute is mainly about who should have the final say over changes to working arrangements.

    DHBs have offered the doctors a 36-month contract from 1 April this year to 31 March 2022. They are offering three salary increases over that time: 2.5 percent from 1 April, 3 percent from 6 April, 2020, and 2 percent from 5 April, 2021.

    They've also offered a lump sum of $2700 gross for registrars and $2300 gross for house officers who were RDA members on 1 April this year.

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