Pay talks and offers for  five other groups of district health board staff  are on hold waiting for the precedent-setting New Zealand Nurses Organisation nursing agreement to be resolved.

A number of unions representing DHB staff are advising their members not to undermine the NZNO industrial action – which will go ahead on July 5 if last-ditch facilitation fails to find a resolution – as they await their turn at the pay-talk table. Two of those groups – junior doctors and allied health – have also taken strike action in recent years.

The NZNO has been in talks since before its multi-employer collective agreement (MECA) expired at the end of July last year for a deal covering its now 29,000 DHB members – mostly nurses but also a high proportion of the 4000 healthcare assistants and a number of midwives.

The impasse between the 20 DHBs and NZNO has flowed on to stymie and delay other union’s DHB pay talks as the NZNO MECA – the largest in the DHB sector – will set a benchmark that the others will seek to match or better.

DHBs estimate that the current pay roll for all workers potentially covered by the NZNO agreement (including non-union members) as $1.7 billion a year with the other five main negotiations underway adding up to a further nearly $1.5 billion.

The Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Health Minister Dr David Clark have both said there is no more money on the table for the nurses’ pay deal and the DHBs and NZNO had to find a solution by reconfiguring the current package – half billion-dollar over three years (2017-2020) – that has been rejected in its current form by NZNO members.

Robertson – conscious of the other health MECAs under negotiation as well as teachers and civil servants pay deals in the wings – has remained firm on the Government’s commitment to its Budget Responsibility Rules despite high expectations and pressure for substantial public sector pay increases under the new Government. David Clark has also said “you cannot fix nine years of underfunding in one pay round”

After the NZNO MECA one of the largest of the health MECAs in dollar terms currently under negotiation is the ‘junior doctors’ with a pay roll of around $500 million.

Melissa Dobbyn, an advocate for the NZ Resident Doctors’ Association who represent the about 3000 house officers and registrars covered by the MECA which expired in late February had only had a few days of talks since then.

“We did have some dates booked for this week but at the request of the DHBs we agreed to put them on hold as they were somewhat preoccupied with the nurses’ action.”

The Public Service Association (PSA) talks are also stalled and offers have not been received for the four MECAs currently under negotiation that expired last year  – its two allied health and technical MECAs ($571m), covering about 9000 staff, and its  two mental health and public health nursing MECAs ($217m). Two of its four DHB clerical MECAs ($172m) expired this year and recently so did the E tū (Service and Food Workers Union) DHB MECA ($66m).

Expiring at the same time as the NZNO MECA and also stalled is the MERAS midwifery MECA ($52m) negotiated by MERAS (the Midwifery Employee Representation and Advisory Service), which co-leader Caroline Conroy says has moved from representing the “majority” to “most” of the DHBs’ 1400 midwives.

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