After negotiations with the 20 District Health Boards (DHBs), the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) canceled their strike notice of the 29th of July. The strike was organised by some 30,000 nurses and health care assistants who unanimously voted for three nationwide strikes on July 29, August 19, and September 9 after repudiating DHBs paltry pay hike of 1.38%. To resolve the staffing crisis, the nurses’ initial ask to the NZNO was a hike of 17% to salaries, with an immediate 10% lift.
Many nurses were furious over the NZNO’s announcement of the cancellation of the strike without consulting the NZNO members. After the uproar, when the Union were questioned about their authority to cancel the strike, it gave its clarification by issuing a letter that they were entitled to withdraw the strike under the Employment Relations Act.
In its media address, the NZNO said that there was significant progress made in the talks with DHBs last week where they presented a revised offer only on the condition that the July strike be repealed. However, the strikes for August 19 and September 9 are not cancelled yet. DHB’s previous offer did not acknowledge the staffing crisis at hospitals and suggested a pay cut relative to inflation (which is 3.3 percent), which is a fallout from the three-year wage freeze announced for the majority of public employees.
There is a growing dissidence among the public over the Ardern Government’s reticence in resolving the snowballing challenges in the hospital system.
The government and Union are delaying the peremptory issue that requires serious attention by canceling strikes and making offers with no prominent changes. The cancelation of this strike essentially buys time for the NZNO to resolve the central issue of the nurse’s pay equity.
However, much to the annoyance of the actual stakeholders, Andrew Little, Health Minister said that the revised offer remains largely unchanged as it would cost NZ$ 408MN over the 27-month term of the agreement and would remain within the pay freeze. The pay equity process ( to increase healthcare worker’s salaries to equalize it with powerful male-dominated professions) is a complicated project and involves members of NZNO, the Public Service Association, and the Midwifery Employee Representation and Advisory Services (MERAS). The Union itself has not let out any details of the current offer, that is alluded to by Little. The members stand to be apprised of that on 22nd July.
There are various struggles faced by healthcare staff like fatigue, high levels of burnout, staffing shortages, overflowing hospitals, and overstretched services. Even senior doctors, dentists, midwives, and anesthetic technicians are planning to protest and leave their jobs because of the crisis created by the years of government underfunding and aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The healthcare workers were also infuriated by the media coverage of the strike cancelation and reporting over the whole incident.