Twenty-one Wellington GPs were returning to work this morning after a one-hour strike sparked by a dispute over the doctors’ call for two dentist colleagues to join the same collective agreement.

The historic strike action – believed to be the first ever by GPs – was taken by the salaried GPs who work for iwi provider Ora Toa Health which runs four general practices in the wider Porirua area (one of which includes a dental service) plus a general practice in Wellington City.

The GPs and two dentists belonging to Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) are seeking to have the dentists join the ASMS collective agreement with Te Rūnanga o Toa Rangatira (TRoTR) which runs Ora Toa Health.

ASMS senior industrial officer Lloyd Woods said GPs are likely to continue with further planned strike action of four more one-hour stoppages leading up to a full day strike on Christmas Eve if the Rūnanga continues with its “hard line”.

Ta Matiu Rei, executive director of TRoTR, said it remained committed to reaching an agreement and had explained to ASMS on a number of occasions its reasons for not extending the collective agreement to include dentists. He has also said the dispute also highlights the lack of public money for providing an adult dental service.

“The terms and conditions of this collective agreement relate specifically to and are tailored for medical practitioners (our doctors); it is not designed for dentists and it would not be appropriate for both doctors and dentists to be covered by the same agreement.”

Wood said the two parties had met unsuccessfully three times, including mediation, to renegotiate the agreement.

“Generally negotiations with the Rūnanga are reasonably good-natured and both parties have looked for win-win solutions in the past,” said Woods.

“The absolute refusal, without reasonable cause, to recognise the dentists’ important role as part of the wider medical team in a holistic service is unacceptable to our members.”

Rei said the Rūnanga refutes the union’s claim that it had not shown good will and common sense.

“We put it back to ASMS that they return to negotiations with us, as a display of their good will and common sense – not only to resolve this issue for our dentists and doctors, but also for our many registered patients who will be greatly impacted should ASMS continue on the path they have chosen.”

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