New offer presented to health workers ahead of Monday's strike

A new offer has been presented to 10,000 health workers by district health boards in a bid to stop strike action planned for Monday.

The Public Service Association’s expected to comment shortly.

Collective agreement negotiations between the workers’ union, Public Service Association, and district health boards (DHBs) have continued for over 18 months.

The dispute is about the pay and working conditions of staff in over 70 professions.

This includes staff that aren’t doctors or nurses, such as lab technicians that process Covid-19 tests, alcohol and drug counsellors, dieticians, dental assistants and speech language therapists.

With a resolution unable to be reached, the Employment Relations Authority issued a recommendation to the parties on how the dispute could be resolved on April 29.

Workers have been striking this week by only working during their contracted hours and taking breaks, in a move called “work to rule”.

Guy Jukes, PSA organiser for Waitematā DHB, said he’s been picketing outside the hospital for at least two months, advocating for “fairness” in the workplace.

“A lot of the members that are covered by this current dispute are what we call the unseen professions… and are no less vital, and historically they’ve just been not as well paid as their nursing counterparts and that’s something we’ve been trying to address for a number of years.”

“With Covid and with the cost of living including petrol prices, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult for our members to sustain a decent level of living and that’s something that just shouldn’t be allowed in the health care at the moment,” he said.

Jukes said many members have worked “solidly and tirelessly through the Covid pandemic with little or no appreciable rewards”.

Dental therapist Alanna, who wanted her last name to remain confidential, said pressure has increased as staff have moved overseas for roles with better pay.

“At this rate, there’s going to be no one left to take care of everyone,” she said.

“It’s been an 18-month wait, and what have we got in the mean time, we’ve got a pay freeze.”

Mental health occupational therapist Nadine Goudie said the Government’s financial commitment to improving mental health services has not seen “fair pay” eventuate for mental health workers and that if nothing changes, “the public will miss out”.

The parties agreed not to share details of offers publicly throughout the bargaining process.

In a statement released earlier this week, a spokesperson for district health boards said she acknowledges negotiations have been prolonged.

“DHBs and the PSA are both keen to address issues of low pay for this workforce and reaching an agreement to settle these pay talks so we can focus our efforts and energy on resolving the Allied Pay Equity claim for this group,” DHB spokesperson and Hawke’s Bay DHB chief executive Keriana Brooking said.

“DHBs still hope to prevent further action and that the offer being finalised now will result in the lifting of the strike action.”

While hospital and emergency services will be available if the 24 hour strikes go ahead 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 different services,” a spokesperson for district health boards said in a statement.

A press release from the Public Service Association said thousands of New Zealanders would be affected, but a DHB spokesperson said the impact won’t be clear until Monday, if the strike goes ahead.

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