Midwives in Auckland and Northland walked off the job and onto the streets today kicking off consecutive days of rolling strikes across the country.
About 1500 MERAS (Midwifery Employee Representation and Advisory Service) union members are protesting this week following failed pay negotiations last week.
The midwives' union refused to put the DHB's latest offer to members, saying it was worse than two previous offers already rejected by members.
At the picket line in Tāmaki Makaurau, midwife Katie Dahl said she was exhausted.
"It's getting to the point where we're all overworked, understaffed. We're all burning out, I'm burnt out and I've been here three years and it's making us want to look at something different," she said.
"We need what we deserve otherwise we're not going to be able to have women birthing safely in safe environments."
Midwife and union representative Victoria Christian said the occupation was undervalued.
"We need midwives. We need people to come into midwifery. We need to make the profession attractive on more than one level," she said.
Christian said midwives gave everything to their job, but with poor pay and understaffing, it was getting more difficult to provide the best care.
"I don't want to do my job constantly saying 'I'm really sorry you've had to wait, I'm really sorry about this, I'm really sorry we don't have the availability of people to look after you', that's not what we want to do.
"We want to say: 'this is going to be fantastic! you're about to become a mum for the first, fifth or seventh time!'. We can't do that if there's not enough of us," she said.
Last week, MERAS refused to put the DHB's latest offer to members, saying it was worse than the two previous offers.
Union co-leader Jill Ovens said midwives should be paid a salary that met the cost of living, but their requests were falling on deaf ears.
"We think there's a lot of bias and misunderstanding about what midwives do.
"They do a four-year degree and then they learn on the job, incredible skills that are just so underrated and undervalued," she said.
According to DHB data, most midwives are aged 45 or older - of those, the majority are between 55 and 64 years old.
The union said the industry was struggling to entice younger people and fears what might happen if the situation did not improve.
Northland District Health Board midwife and MERAS representative Joyce Croft (Ngāpuhi) expected more support for midwives from the Labour government.
"We've got a woman prime minister, there are a lot more women in Cabinet these days, they should be supporting us, and also the men. Because you need men and women to actually use our service - they've got to produce a pregnancy."
For Whangārei midwife Raewyn Parke, who has spent 36 years in the profession, safety is at the heart of her concerns.
She said during her career, the complexity of the work had increased but patient staffing ratios had not.
"We go home wondering whether we've done everything that we should have done. We know often we haven't done as well as we should have done and that's short-changing the women of New Zealand."
DHB spokesperson and Tairāwhiti DHB chief executive Jim Green was disappointed the union was pushing ahead with the strikes despite the latest offer which included a salary bump of $5800 one year after ratification, and an immediate $6000 lump sum payment.
The protests will continue down the country the rest of this week, before a nationwide strike on the 19th of August.
Strikes planned by DHB
- Monday 9 August
- Tuesday 10 August
- Wednesday 11 August
- Thursday 12 August
- Thursday 19 August
Northland, Waitemata, Auckland, Counties Manukau, Southern
11am to 7pm
Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Lakes, Taranaki, South Canterbury, West Coast
11am to 7pm
Tairawhiti, Hawkes Bay, Mid Central, Whanganui, Wairarapa, Canterbury
11am to 7pm
Hutt, Capital & Coast, Nelson-Marlborough
11am to 7pm
8am to 8pm