24 Aug 2023

Warning of more defections as practice nurses, midwives accept pay deal

7:15 pm on 24 August 2023
No caption

A union official says members accepted the deal on the condition the union now progressed their pay equity claim. File pic Photo: 123RF

Thousands of general practice nurses and other health workers in primary care have voted to accept the government's pay offer - but warn it will not be enough to stop more defecting to higher paid jobs in hospitals.

The Nurses Organisation said the collective agreement, which covers about 3500 nurses, midwives and administration staff, still left a gap with Te Whatu Ora salaries.

Chief executive Paul Goulter said negotiations which dragged out over two years, with strike action and public rallies, "ran into the wall of pay parity".

The pay disparity opened up further last month after the 35,000 nurses and midwives employed by Te Whatu Ora narrowly voted to accept their offer from the government.

That lifted pay rates for senior nurses to between $114,025 and $162,802 a year, and registered nurses between $75,773 and $106,739 (plus penal rates).

Goulter said this settlement, together with the government's earlier commitment of an extra $200 million a year to boost salaries in the primary sector, brought pay rates "closer" together - but a large gap remained.

For instance, pay rates for registered nurses in primary care were still between 14 and 16 percent lower than in hospitals.

"The migration of nurses out of primary health and into hospitals has been a problem for a number of years and it's got worse. This will help, but the gap is so wide, I don't think it will do much to stop that drift.

"So we've got a long way to go yet and I know nurses and employers in the non-Te Whatu Ora sector have been disheartened by the gap opening up again."

Goulter said members had accepted this deal on the condition the union now progressed their pay equity claim, which was intended to remedy historically poor pay for female-dominated professions.

The union would now begin talks with employer representatives, who had already indicated support.

"There's been a strong conviction in the sector for some time that a nurse is a nurse, no matter where they work, and they should be paid the same.

"To maintain the health system on an equitable basis, this should be fully funded by the government."

The union expected to lodge the pay equity claim within weeks, he said.

The government has previously acknowledged the salary gap with hospitals was putting some services "at risk of failure".

It provided an extra $40 million between April and June to boost salaries for nurses and kaiāwhina working in aged residential care, home support, Māori and Pasifika providers and hospices, and from July started rolling out an extra $200m a year to other providers, including general practice, urgent care, Plunket, telehealth and addictions.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs