2 Mar 2022

Employment Court to consider injunction to stop health workers' strike

6:56 pm on 2 March 2022

The Employment Court will tomorrow consider an injunction to stop a planned strike by thousands of health workers this Friday.

Medical staff member with mask and protective equipment holds Coronavirus nasal swabs test tubes at drive-through testing point in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 (novel coronavirus)

(File image) Photo: 123RF

More than 70 groups of health workers in district health boards (DHBs) have voted to take strike action, including allied, public health, scientific and technical professionals, after failed pay talks over the past 16 months.

DHB spokesperson Keriana Brooking said the injunction was lodged by the DHBs, who want the workers' union, the PSA, to lift the strike notice.

"We made the decision as it's unprecedented times, we think we owe it to the community and people seeking care to try and prevent the disruption to health services if we can, which is why we've lodged the injunction."

Brooking said with increasing number of Covid-19 hospitalisations and hundreds of staff off work due to the virus, the timing of the strike was terrible.

"We recognise the union's right to strike, the decision for us to do this was not made lightly, but given the acceleration of Omicron over the last five days and given that we have requested the PSA to call off the strike action as late as Monday evening, and they declined, we felt we were in a position where we needed to do it."

It also claims the strike action bundles together pay equity and wage issues, matters which it says should be considered separately.

PSA organiser Will Matthews said the union was disappointed by the DHBs' legal attempt to thwart planned industrial action over stalled wage talks.

"This strike is actually the worst case scenario for our members, when you become a health worker you don't go into that line of work to go on strike but it has reached breaking point and our members have felt this is the only course of action they have to be taken seriously."

In terms of the timing of the strike, he said the union had entered a range life-preserving service agreements with DHBs, which gave them the ability to request additional staff who would otherwise be striking.

"We think that the best way to ensure high quality healthcare for New Zealanders is to ensure the wellbeing of healthcare workers.

"The DHBs have a workforce of exhausted, overworked, underpaid and undervalued people on their hands who are now seeing very clearly that their employers would rather take them to court than pay them fairly."

But Brooking said DHBs were committed to settling the pay talks and the pay equity claim for allied health workers.

The Employment Court are expected to consider the matter with urgency and a decision expected by the close of play on Thursday, Brooking said.

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