A last-minute offer from district health boards to 10,000 health workers to avoid a strike was dismissed as “completely inadequate”.
Public Service Association (PSA) organizer Will Matthews described the offer made on Friday afternoon as a “kick in the guts” and said the strike scheduled for Monday would continue.
“We made it clear to employers that if an offer was made that honored the Employment Relations Authority report, we would recommend it to our members,” Matthews said.
Matthews described the offer as “not just a moral failing, but an act of bad faith” after several government ministers publicly stated that following the recommendations of the Labor Relations Authority would lead to a resolution.
The dispute concerns pay and working conditions for staff in more than 70 professions.
This includes staff who are not doctors or nurses, such as lab technicians who process Covid-19 tests, alcohol and drug counselors, dieticians, dental assistants and speech therapists.
Matthews called on HealthNZ to resume negotiations as the union had “lost faith in the Department of Health”.
“We are asking for negotiations to be transferred to HealthNZ and the interim agency as we have lost confidence in the Department of Health,” he said.
In response, the health ministry said it would not negotiate through the media.
“Both DHB and PSA are keen to resolve the issues with this workforce and reach an agreement to settle these wage negotiations so that we can focus our efforts and energy on resolving the employee grievance. ‘Allied Pay Equity,’ the department said in a statement.
“We recognize that negotiations have been protracted and that PSA members and DHBs have been waiting for some time – that is where our efforts will focus.”
Without a guarantee of a fair wage, paramedics will again vote on a sustained strike until June and beyond the creation of the new Health NZ.
Collective bargaining negotiations between the workers’ union, the Civil Service Association and the District Health Boards (DHBs) continued for more than 18 months.
In the absence of a resolution, the Labor Relations Authority issued a recommendation to the parties on how the dispute could be resolved on April 29.
Workers went on strike this week working only their contractual hours and taking breaks, in a movement called “work to rule”.
Guy Jukes, PSA organizer for Waitematā DHB, said he had been picketing outside the hospital for at least two months, advocating for “fairness” in the workplace.
“Many of the members who are covered by this current conflict are what we call the invisible professions … and are no less vital, and historically they have simply not been paid as well as their nursing counterparts and that is something something we’ve been trying to address for a number of years.
“With Covid and with the cost of living including petrol prices it is becoming increasingly difficult for our members to maintain a decent standard of living and that is something that simply should not be allowed in health care at this time,” he said.
Jukes said many members have worked “solidly and tirelessly during the Covid pandemic with little or no appreciable rewards”.
Dental therapist Alanna, who wanted her surname kept confidential, said the pressure had increased as staff moved overseas to better paid positions.
“At this rate, there won’t be anyone left to take care of everyone,” she said.
“It’s been 18 months of waiting, and what have we got in the meantime, we have a wage freeze.”
Mental health occupational therapist Nadine Goudie said the government’s financial commitment to improving mental health services has not seen “fair pay” for mental health workers and that if nothing changes, “the public will be absent”.
The parties have agreed not to publicly share details of the offers throughout the negotiation process.
In a statement released earlier this week, a spokeswoman for the district health boards said she acknowledged negotiations had been extended.
“Both the DHB and the PSA are keen to resolve the low pay issues for this workforce and reach an agreement to settle these pay negotiations so that we can focus our efforts and energy on resolving the Allied Pay Equity claim for this group,” DHB and Hawke’s spokesperson Bay DHB chief executive Keriana Brooking said.
“DHB still hopes to prevent further action and that the offer being finalized will result in the strike being lifted.”
Although hospital and emergency services will be available if the 24-hour strikes continue on Monday, there will be some impact on elective surgeries and patient appointments.
“The impact of the strike will vary depending on the DHB involved and the number of PSA members in the various departments,” a spokesperson for the district health boards said in a statement.
A Public Service Association press release said thousands of New Zealanders would be affected, but a DHB spokesman said the impact would not be clear until Monday.