29 May 2023

Nurses union discusses next steps in pay negotiations with Te Whatu Ora

4:34 pm on 29 May 2023
A group of nurses and supporters striking outside Middlemore Hospital in Auckland early on Thursday morning.

A sign from an NZNO demonstration outside Middlemore Hospital in 2018. Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

A Christchurch healthcare assistant says his colleagues are "tired of being disrespected" as tens of thousands of health workers attend union meetings this week.

Up to 36,000 nurses, midwives and health care assistants will attend the two-hour meetings around the country from today to discuss next steps in ongoing pay negotiations with Te Whatu Ora.

The 57 meetings are not for ratification of the offer.

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) said members asked for a pay offer to match inflation, with the health authority's proposal "falling well short".

Christchurch Hospital NZNO delegate Al Dietschin told RNZ working conditions were "relentless".

"There hasn't really been a period of lower patient loads with summer," Dietschin said. "We've seen pretty much all the way through coming up to winter, the hospital has been jam packed, running near to capacity.

"People are struggling and doing it tough.

"Staff are just over it, they're exhausted and they're tired of the undervaluing and disrespect that the employer, Te Whatu Ora, have shown."

Dietschin said increasing living costs were also adding further strain to existing pressures nurses and health workers were under.

"A lot of our members are women, often with children.

"There's single parents amongst our members and, with rising mortgage rates and rental increases, everything is going up except our wages."

He said further industrial action was ultimately up to the membership during bargaining discussions, but further demonstrations were possible.

Members asked for a pay offer to match the current 6.7 percent rate of inflation.

NZNO said Te Whatu Ora had offered members a $4000 pay rise this year, followed by either 3 percent next year or $2000, whichever was higher.

"Te Whatu Ora has not at all addressed members' claims around the significant issue of safe staffing and their wellbeing at work, such as implementing a ratio-based staffing safety net and supporting health and safety representatives at work."

NZNO chief executive Paul Goulter said he expected meetings to be well attended by members "expressing strong views".

"Members would much rather be at work focusing on their patients but we're holding these meetings to decide what to do next because Te Whatu Ora's offer will not help them deliver the levels of care their patients deserve.

"We are at a time when Aotearoa desperately needs nurses and other health workers. Pay and conditions that recognise their value would make nursing more attractive and help keep the nurses we have.

"Right now nurses do not feel safe coming into work and, ultimately, patients will pay the price for hospitals that are continuously understaffed and under-resourced."

Te Whatu Ora said no one was available for an interview, but a spokesperson said it had planned for the meetings.

"We have been working with our people and the New Zealand Nurses Organisation over the past few weeks to enable these paid union meetings to take place - they are an important part of the collective bargaining process.

"The plans in place mean that during these paid union meetings continuity of services, managing risk to patients, and minimising disruption to care will be achieved.

"Given that we are currently in bargaining with the NZNO, and have future bargaining dates set, our good-faith obligations mean we won't be commenting on the specifics of the negotiations at this time."

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