15 Nov 2022

Hospital technologists fed up with less pay than admin staff

1:07 pm on 15 November 2022
A woman goes through a CT scan.

File image. A radiology booking clerk now starts on $67,000 while a technician in charge of scans starts on $57,000 despite needing to have a degree. Photo: 123RF

Technologists in charge of doing CT and other scans at hospitals are exasperated at being paid $10,000 less than hospital clerical workers.

A technologist has a degree - and the debt that goes with that - but starts on $57,000, compared to the newly-boosted $67,000 starting pay for a radiology booking clerk.

They have been left in the wake after the hospital clerical staff and administrators got rises up to 40 percent under a pay equity deal in June.

"This is crazy," one medical imaging technologist (MIT) told RNZ.

"We provide 24/7 radiology coverage, but our administration team all finish work by 5.30pm leaving a limited group of MITs to work what can be the busiest shift while doing all our own administrative work."

This included phone calls, sending imaging to other hospitals, and answering doctors' questions and queries.

It will likely be many months till the technologists get their own pay equity deal.

Meantime, the pay gap was exacerbating the health worker shortages, the technologists said, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"It's a kick in teeth for new grads to come on and be paid less than someone not even with a degree," a second said.

"My guys work weekends, nights, deal with the drunk and disorderly, for $10,000 less.

"I think it's terrible."

They may get partial relief soon through a separate regular pay offer that, if they accept it, would lift each pay band by $5700 - with rises backdated several months.

However, government public sector pay restraint had held that back, said the national secretary of the Apex union (Association of Professional and Executive Employees), Dr Deborah Powell.

"We struggled to get a reasonable offer for the MITs to reflect the recruitment and retention issues they have because Te Whatu Ora is held back by pay restraint," Powell said.

A pay equity agreement for hospital administration and clerical staff was reached in June with now-defunct district health boards.

It delivered pay rises of up to 40 percent.

The deal "brought tears to my eyes", a Public Service Association (PSA) union delegate was reported saying.

But it took three years to reach the deal - and another 28 job types predominantly held by women and underpaid for decades, including MITs (and nurses who have gone to court), are still queuing for pay equity.

Apex and the PSA aim by next April to have an equity formula worked out for Medical Imaging Technologists.

But that still leaves weeks or even months of negotiating with Health New Zealand over the pay itself.

The technologists told RNZ that discontent had been building since the gulf with administration staff opened up.

"Just to be clear, I'm not complaining about my pay, I appreciate the position I am in because of it," one said.

"It is the conditions between the two roles I see as the problem.

"The only ways I can make more money is to pick up more responsibility - if a role opens up, or do more shift work to get the supplemental payment these shifts bring.

"Honestly, late shifts and night shifts are really hard work, not to mention working one in four weekends.

"Maybe I'll get an admin job and enjoy a proper sleep schedule!"

PSA organiser Will Matthews said pay equity could have been done sooner, alongside the administration deal, but the government did not put the resources into it.

"MITs have had to watch some of their colleagues get paid more for months and months.

"We do want them to know that in the long term when their claim is settled ... these members won't suffer, the outcomes will be similar," he said.

"We share their frustrations."

For technologists in public hospitals, a pay ceiling cut in after about five years, at about $81,000 - and later, an additional step to $86,000. The new $5700 offer would add to these rates.

Specialising in MRI scans paid more "but, again, you hit a pay ceiling at five years", the second said.

"So do they catch up to the administrators?"

The third said they had been near the top of the range, $75,000, for a few years now.

"It's not going to entice people into the profession."

The other gulf is between public and private radiology.

"I would like to get pay parity ... with the private sector MITs but that won't happen," said a technologist who, having worked in a senior role for many years, said they were on $10,000 less than a private technician "who isn't even a lead in an area".

Powell said public radiology, which required about 250 MITs in total, was understaffed by about 40 percent.

"We are watching an exit from the public service," she said.

"It's not only that they have better pay, they have less strenuous hours.

"Private don't work 24/7. You know, there are no night shifts in the private sector."

Apex also represents private sector technologists.

Both technologists and radiology doctors (radiologists) have repeatedly told RNZ that the better work-life balance was one of the biggest temptations for leaving the public to go to the private sector.

"It's too much work and unsuitable facilities and poor management decisions," a radiologist at a regional hospital said.

"On-call here means for 10 hours flat-out."

Powell said Health NZ still had only an interim lead role dealing with workforce matters, almost five months after it took over, and many more months again since work on the change first began.

"We had a transition authority who was beavering away between the announcement and the first of July ... I have yet to see anything that they actually did.

"I haven't managed to get any answers as to why the transition authority didn't make more inroads."

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