Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern late last month proposed an independent panel – to resolve the pay impasse – after the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) announced that its district health board nurses, midwives and healthcare assistant members had voted to reject the 20 DHBs’ pay offer.

Cee Payne, the NZNO’s industrial services manager announced this afternoon that NZNO had agreed to try to resolve the MECA (multi-employer collective agreement) impasse via a panel with an independent chair.  But NZNO would continue with its current campaign of protest rallies and a strike ballot.

Health Minister Dr David Clark said he was “pleased and encouraged” that NZNO had agreed to take up the Prime Minister’s suggestion.

“Everyone wants to find a way through the current impasse and the Independent Panel will bring fresh eyes and perspective to the issue, he said “It is good to see both sides committed to this process, and continuing to work in good faith to find a settlement.”

DHB spokesperson, Dr Ashley Bloomfield said today that DHBs support the Independent Panel as a way to resolve the current negotiations and avoid disrupting health services, as well as finding a mechanism to address the current impasses.

In an update to members NZNO industrial adviser Lesley Harry said NZNO was still planning to proceed with an online ballot soon as possible after a national DHB delegates meeting next week decided on what industrial action options to put to the vote. The union earlier indicated that an online ballot – with a postal ballot option – would take about four weeks so a decision either way would not be known until late May. So the likely earliest date for any strike action could be from late June onwards – the start of the winter ‘flu season which is predicted could be severe this year.

Bloomfield said the DHBs understood that NZNO would still be balloting its members on industrial action.  “What I want to make clear is that they don’t need to take strike action to be heard,” said Bloomfield.

He said the DHBs had been working closely with NZNO and have agreed to the panel’s terms of reference and expected that the Panel members and the timetable would be finalised by early next week.

Bloomfield also said the 20 DHBs acknowledged the safe staffing and pay equity issues raised by nurses and midwives and “while it could not address them all at once” the DHBs did want to give nurses and midwives confidence that there was a “clear pathway to addressing them within the reality of the competing demand for health resources”.

Payne said the three member panel would be made up of an independent chair appointed by the Government and a member each proposed by the DHBs and the NZNO.  All panel members had to accepted by both the DHBs and NZNO.

Harry also pointed out to members in the update that the panel’s DHB NZNO MECA recommendations were not binding and members would be able to vote to accept or reject the panel’s recommended offer.

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