PM Jacinda Ardern talks about the panel for nurses surrounding issues regarding their pay rise. / Doug Sherring

 

Nurses pay rise recommendations out today from the Independent Panel set up to try and resolve the impasse without strike action “falls short” says nurses’ union.

But a recommendation for dedicated funding to address safe staffing concerns have been given the thumbs-up.

The panel has recommended a $2000 lump sum payment in lieu of back pay, a 3 per cent increase on June 1, a further 3 per cent increase on August 1, a final 3 per cent increase on August 1 next year and for pay equity negotiations to be conducted during a three year contract.

The last rejected offer from the 20 district health boards was for a two year contract with a 2 per cent pay rise per year over two years, a lump sum payment of $1050 and the carrot of a possible pay equity settlement starting on July next year for the 27,000 nurses, midwives and health care assistants covered by the New Zealand Nurses Organisation DHB collective agreement.

Voting closes tomorrow on a month-long secret ballot on whether NZNO’s DHB members will strike on July 5 and 12.

The 20 DHBs are expected to use the recommendations – and NZNO’s feedback – to deliver a new offer to the union early next week but the jury is out whether the offer will meet DHB nurses’ expectations with NZNO telling the panel that the remuneration package in the interim recommendations was “unacceptable” and the only major change in the final recommendations was to increase the lump sum from $1500 for covered staff up to $2000.

But NZNO was supportive of a recommendation for the DHBs to receive funding, equivalent of 2 per cent of the national DHB nursing and midwifery workforce annual costs, to boost workforce capacity to address nurses’ and midwives’ safe staffing concerns

The panel’s Chair Margaret Wilson said she was confident these recommendations, if agreed to and ratified, would  enable the DHBs and NZNO to address the underlying factors behind the pay and workload concerns of nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants.

Helen Mason, the spokesperson for the 20 DHBs, said it welcomed the report and would be carefully considering the recommendations over the next few days and using the report to develop its revised offer.

Cee Payne, NZNO industrial services manager said the panel’s recommendations fell short in addressing the NZNO’s submission; particularly in offering a lump sum rather than backdating a pay increase to when the last deal expired 10 months ago, not addressing its request to benchmark nurses pay with secondary teachers and by recommending the agreement be extended from two years to three years.

But she said NZNO members would be “pleased to see a significant number of recommendations that reflect their concerns about the immediate staffing crisis”. “Of particular note is the recommendation for an additional 2% funding to ensure DHBs have the nursing and midwifery workforce capacity to deliver the required patient services,” said Payne. “This is a significant recommendation and not seen previously for nursing and midwifery.”

The rare move of voting on strike action followed building frustration from stretched nurses who rejected two offers from the 20 DHBs for not reflecting their skills, workload or the pressure nurses are working under.

NZNO has told its DHB members that – providing the DHBs’ new offer “positively progresses” the issues that led members to reject the last two offers – then the latest offer would be sent to members later that week, with ratification meetings set down for between June 5-15.

The results of the strike ballot are expected to be shared with members on Monday May 28 – prior to NZNO deciding whether to put the DHBs’ third offer to a members’ vote.

NZNO industrial advisor Lesley Harry, in the negotiating team’s update to members, said the ballot outcome would – in the event that a revised DHB offer was rejected by members – would determine the next steps.

As an essential service NZNO has to give at least 14 days notice to the DHBs’ prior to taking strike action.

The DHBs started working on a contingency plan for possible strike action shortly after it was announced on March 26 that NZNO’s district health board nurses, midwives and healthcare assistant members had voted to reject the 20 DHBs’ revised pay offer.

Mason said today that the DHBs are committed to finding a settlement. “We also have an obligation to ensure patient safety and we’re continuing to work through contingency plans to maintain essential hospital services in case NZNO nurses and midwives reject our offer and go on strike.”

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