Strike action by the members of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) and Service and Food Workers Union (SFWU) continues after attempts at mediation with employer Oceania fail to resolve the ongoing pay dispute.

The unions have been seeking a 3.5 per cent pay rise for a one-year contract backdated to July 1 last year and ending on June 30 2012. Meanwhile Oceania’s wage offer was for three per cent over 15 months, the time period “from ratification of the new collective to until around May 31 2013,” according to a spokesperson from Oceania.

Oceania chief executive Guy Eady said in a statement that while Oceania “acknowledged the frustration” of the striking health care workers, its three per cent wage offer was “fair and reasonable” and in line with the government funding increase.

However, NZNO spokesman David Wait says the offer equates to a one per cent increase a year spread over three calendar years. According to Wait, the majority of experienced nurses employed at Oceania are earning at least $9000 less than their public hospital counterparts.

Wait says that while Oceania’s new graduate registered nurse (RN) pay rate compares favourably with the rest of the sector and district health boards ($49,600 compared to about $45,500 at DHBs), lack of automatic progress through the pay scale means many experienced nurses remain on that pay rate. The upshot is that the majority of RN members at Oceania are currently paid between $49,600 and $52,500, with only a “tiny minority” making it to the top of their pay scale of $57,700. By comparison, DHB nurses automatically progress to a base salary of $61,300 after five years’ experience.

Wait added that most not-for-profit aged care providers paid very similar pay rates to the DHB sector.

The strike action has so far involved staff at 30 of the 59 Oceania facilities signed up to the collective agreement, which has been under negotiation since the last contract expired at the end of June last year.

Wait said all aged nurses and workers are reluctant to take strike action and action was taken where thought to be most effective and where members felt most strongly.

According to an Oceania representative, Oceania was working to put on extra staff to ensure there was “minimal disruption” to residents and non-striking staff.

Wait voiced concerns that, during the first two-hour strike, at least one Auckland rest home brought in untrained health care assistants and two bureau nurses unfamiliar with the facility to provide coverage.

Eady refutes these claims. “We do not allow untrained people to be responsible for our elderly residents during this industrial action,” he says.

Mediation talks continue between the unions and Oceania in an effort to resolve the ten-month long dispute.

Meanwhile, at Radius, strike notices have been withdrawn to allow NZNO members working at Radius facilities around the country to vote on a new offer from Radius. Meetings will take place throughout April.

The Radius starting pay rate for health care assistants is currently $13 an hour and the top rate is $14.63, and the RN pay scale starts at $40,700 and has a top rate of $51,400.

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