3 Sep 2020

Thousands of GP nurses on strike in bid for pay parity

8:49 am on 3 September 2020

Thousands of general practice nurses are expected to go on strike today in a bid for equal pay with district health board colleagues.

Nurse practitioners in New Zealand have the legal authority to practice beyond the level of a registered nurse.

Photo: 123RF

DHB nurses won a pay rise in 2018 after industrial action, but primary health care nurses - those at GPs and some emergency clinics - say they're still being paid 10 percent less.

More than 3000 nurses and administrative staff from the Nurses Organisation (NZNO) union will stop work for eight hours today, affecting 500 GPs and accident and medical centres.

NZNO spokesperson Chris Wilson told Morning Report the strike would have a significant impact, with some services being reduced and some practices shutting for the day.

That would affect appointments and some prescription forms, Wilson said.

"We're very confident that there won't be any issues around urgent or emergency care or health and safety, we have developed a protocol around that.

"But interestingly we haven't heard anything in regard as of yet, so that shows there has been a real effort made to ensure our members can participate in this strike."

Testing for Covid-19 will still go ahead, although it may take a bit longer than usual.

"This strike action is in no way targeted to stem any of those kind of services where people need them," Wilson said.

The strike centres around the pay parity issue that primary health care workers have been experiencing since the Multi-Employer Collective Agreement negotiations (MECA) at DHBs in 2018, Wilson said.

"There was a clear pay parity gap, and that's really exacerbated, particularly in the last 12 months. At the moment we have an experienced nurse in primary healthcare who has the same qualifications and experience but is paid 10.6 percent, which is over $7500 a year, less than her DHB colleague."

Wilson said members were "extremely disappointed and frustrated" at the lack of action to date and that the problem did require the government to get involved.

New Zealand Medical Association chair Kate Baddock also said the government should find the $15 million needed to remove that gap.

"If primary care is as important as they say, and the value of primary care nurses needs to be acknowledged and appreciated, this needs to be met."

However, when asked yesterday in the Covid-19 briefing about the strike, Minister of Health Chris Hipkins said he was not going to get involved in industrial negotiations.

"Ultimately they are employed by private practices, the government is not their employer and so there are a variety of factors that those employers take into account in their negotiations.

"In general, the government supports pay parity. Equal pay for equal work, that's the basic premise that we do support. Having said that in primary care, we are not the employer of those nurses."

On the other hand, Wilson said they were very disappointed and frustrated to hear the minister's comments.

"We have a serious recruitment and retention problem in primary healthcare at the moment, and the employers want and need to pay pay parity.

"It's interesting that in May $151 million was given to improve the pay of private early childhood centre teachers, to fix their recruitment and retention issues, so really why is this different at all in terms of the government?"

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