A month on from negotiators reaching a deal for hospital midwives – including a Midwifery Accord and a separate pay equity process – midwives can expect a formal offer in ‘a matter of days’.

Hospital midwives belong to midwifery union MERAS took rolling strike action in mid-February while waiting for a formal pay offer following facilitation negotiations with the district health boards. The union has been in protracted talks with the DHBs since the MERAS multi-employer collective agreement expired in July 2017 and also took rolling strike action late last year in the lead-up to facilitation earlier this year.

Jill Ovens, MERAS industrial co-leader, said ongoing facilitation and counter-offers in January and February had led to the DHBs and union negotiating three components to a potential deal. These components were a Midwifery Accord to address the severe workforce shortages in midwifery, a separate pay equity process for midwives but with the same December 31 settlement date as nurses, and thirdly a pay offer with a new starting salary step for graduate midwives.

The first two components had now been agreed to but Ovens said MERAS was still waiting, a month on from the last facilitation meeting, for a formal pay offer to be delivered.

“Our members are getting increasingly frustrated by the delay as we want all three to be sorted before we go ahead with the ratification vote,” said Ovens. “There is no guarantee that members will accept the deal but (the negotiating team) are going to recommend they accept it.”

A DHB spokesperson said DHBs had been waiting for all three components of the pay deal package to be completed before delivering the full offer package to MERAS. He said this was now nearly complete and the final pay offer should be with the union “in a matter of days”.  Work was also being done on finalising a formal signing ceremony for the Midwifery Accord.

Ovens said the negotiators had agreed to an extended term pay deal for the hospital midwives with an expiry date of January 2021.

She said while the DHBs’ offer to MERAS was built on last year’s DHB deal with NZNO it did include a number of aspects that were specific to midwives including an additional percentage increase from August 2020.  That had been agreed to after discussing variations to an offer tabled on February 25 which included a new pay step level for new graduate midwives from August 2020.  She said this would be equivalent to a 20 per cent increase on what new graduate midwives currently earn.

Ovens said it hoped to have a the final pay offer shortly so the deal can out to a ratification vote in April.  She said while midwives were frustrated after waiting so long they would not be financially disadvantaged by the delays as there would be backpay. “It’s just that we went to get on with the pay equity claim and work on the Accord.’

Separate pay equity claim is ‘highly significant’

Ovens said the agreement of a separate pay equity claim process for midwives was “highly significant” as initially it was tied up with the NZNO’s nursing pay equity claim.  “Which would have led us to the same outcome we have now (a joint pay scale for hospital registered midwives and registered nurses).”

“Midwives are a profession in their own right and so their pay equity claims should be dealt with accordingly. The DHBs have agreed with that, so that is all sorted.”

She said that meant midwives’ work would now be compared with male-dominated occupations rather than comparing them with nurses who were “another women-dominated, undervalued and underpaid profession”.

Ovens said the pay equity settlement would be effective from December 31 and if it wasn’t settled until after New Year’s Eve then the settlement offer would be backdated.

She said a second element of the proposed deal was a Midwifery Accord which had also been agreed to by DHB negotiators which was to address workforce shortages, safe staffing issues, recruitment and retention issues and financial support for midwifery undergraduates.

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