The midwifery union MERAS is urging its members to reject the DHBs pay offer as it fails to recognise their base claim for a pay differential over nurses.

The union has been fighting for recognition that midwives are not “nurses by another name”, but a different autonomous profession facing major workforce supply issues as district health boards struggle to recruit and retain core midwives because of inadequate pay.

Caroline Conroy, the co-leader of MERAS (the Midwifery Employee Representation and Advisory Service), said when voting on the offer begins next week DHB midwives will also be asked to vote on action campaign options ranging from lobbying MPs to industrial action.

Meanwhile self-employed midwives working as lead maternity carers (LMC) are also frustrated that the College of Midwives hard fought for pay equity settlement ­– for a new co-designed funding model for community midwifery care – has stalled with the Ministry of Health baulking at the cost.

The College of Midwives-aligned MERAS represents 85 per cent of the district health board’s 1400 midwife employees and when its MECA (multi-employer collective agreement) expired last year – the same time as the NZNO DHB MECA – its major bargaining claim was for a pay differential between midwives and nurses. The MERAS talks were put on hold during the prolonged NZNO DHB negotiations which, were settled last month with NZNO’s minority midwifery members remaining on the same pay scale as their registered nurse colleagues.

Conroy and MERAS industrial co-leader Jill Ovens in an update to members said when talks resumed in August the DHBs had agreed to put forward a proposal for a retention allowance for midwives that included an additional $5,000 incentive for part-time midwives who agreed to go to 0.9 FTE or full-time, and an allowance for all midwives to encourage them to stay working in public hospitals.

“But when the proposal went to the Ministry of Health and Health Workforce NZ, they rejected the idea, saying they had other ideas to retain employed midwives,” said Conroy and Ovens.

The DHBs were now expected to offer to the MERAS midwives a basically identical offer as accepted by NZNO last month – a $2000 lump sum, 3 per cent per annum pay rise, a 1 per cent pay rise for senior midwives and an extra two steps on the core midwives pay scale which would bring the top core midwife base pay to $77,386 by May 2020, which is the same as registered nurses with the same length of experience.

“We told the DHBs that the midwifery shortages and use of registered nurses on postnatal wards have highlighted for midwives the unfairness of having your pay rates linked to that of nursing,” said Conroy and Evans in the update.

The pair said MERAS considered it a breach of good faith that its midwives were expected to accept the  same settlement  as agreed with NZNO – that represents the minority of midwives – when it was not consulted or had any input into those discussions.

They also pointed out that under the Midwifery Council competencies midwives are expected to direct, supervise, monitor and evaluate obstetric nursing care provided by registered nurses.

“So why are you paid the same as nurses?” The pair said it was partly due to the historic undervaluing of midwifery as ‘women’s work’ and regulation due to historic lobbying by the medical profession that devalued midwifery for most of last century and linked it with nursing until landmark 1990 legislation gave registered midwives the right to work autonomously with women throughout their pregnancies and labour.

“The DHBs have embedded the injustice in their pay negotiations by linking midwives’ pay to another oppressed group of mainly women, i.e. nurses.”

MERAS has, like NZNO, had the DHBs accept that there is a case for negotiating pay equity for midwives and says the DHBs have agreed that it be based on occupational groups and not by which MECA they are covered by.

Ovens and Conroy said they have made it very clear to the DHBs that as MERAS represented 85 per cent of employed midwives, any process involving pay equity for midwives must be led by MERAS. “Further, it is our view that consideration of the case for pay equity for midwives should leverage off the five-year struggle by self-employed midwives for recognition of their role.”

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