A fortnight of rolling strike action got underway today by more than 1150 DHB midwives fighting for recognition that they are not “nurses by another name”.

The MERAS union members –who make up the vast majority of the 1400 DHB-employed midwives – are striking after voting to reject the 20 DHBs’ offer which would keep midwifery pay on par with registered nurses.

Mediation on Monday (see below) failed to resolve the dispute leading to employed midwives across the 20 DHBs striking for two hours, twice a day from today until December 5 – a total of 540 strike notices.  Most striking MERAS midwives rostered on duty will be remaining on site during the strike period to be on call for the extensive life-preserving services (see the LPS list below) required to be offered during industrial action.

Jill Ovens, industrial co-leader of MERAS (Midwifery Employee Representation and Advisory Service) said the DHBs and Ministry of Health were continuing to hold their position that MERAS members should accept the registered nurses and midwives pay scale negotiated with the New Zealand Nurses Organisation – a deal in which MERAS had no part.

“A decision by members of MERAS not to accept a DHB pay offer has nothing to do with being worth more, less or the same as nurses,” said Ovens.  “We have a different code of practice, different expertise and have a different history to nurses. Other health professionals like physiotherapists and occupational therapists have pay differentials that reflect their qualifications, level of responsibility and scope of practice. Why shouldn’t midwives have their pay rates set in the same way?”

Ovens said it had also been told that the same workforce must have exactly the same pay and conditions regardless of union but just last week the DHBs negotiated a deal with a new breakaway junior doctors’ union that was different from the majority of resident medical officers (RMOs) bu employed by established NZRDA union.

That deal with the newly formed Specialty Trainees of New Zealand (SToNZ) – who started negotiations with only 50 members signed up from  a national workforce of about 4000 RMOs – rescinds new safer working hour rosters negotiated last year by the NZRDA (which represents about 3500 RMOs) which SToNZ members argued impacted too negatively on their specialist training opportunities.

Health Central has sought comment from the District Health Boards’ spokesperson over the MERAS strike and also comments on whether the DHB’s deal with SToNZ set a new precedent for other negotiations with health professions represented by several unions.

MERAS midwifery co-leader Caroline Conroy said the fact that some DHBS have requested more midwives than normal to be rostered on duty during the strike period highlighted the severe under-staffing in maternity units around the country and also how highly skilled and responsible midwives’ roles are.

“The union is being asked to find members willing to fill gaps in rosters. It is not the purpose of LPS to fix staffing shortages,” Caroline Conroy says.

Karen Guililand, chief executive of the MERAS-linked New Zealand College of Midwives says the strike was a clear indication of the serious issues the profession – both employed and self-employed – were facing, with hospital midwives facing critical workforce shortages.

“This is only the second time in history midwives have taken the decision to strike. This has been a very difficult decision for midwives to make and the College supports the employed (DHB) midwives 100%”, she says.”

Self-employed midwives are continuing to pursue a new contract that recognises their pay equity, co-design negotiations that concluded that a fair gross income for a self-employed midwife should be $241,000 for a caseload of about 40 births a year – more than double what most are currently receiving.

MERAS mediation proposal

  • Start new midwifery graduates on $56,788 (equivalent to second step of NZNO RN/RM pay scale) to reflect extra clinical experience required and self-funded by midwifery new graduates
  • Midwives gain the new top $72,947 pay step on the NZNO RN/RM pay scale at an earlier date
  • Other adjustments to steps in the pay scale to address ‘anomalies’.

Life Preserving Services in a maternity context

  1. Includes care for all women:
  • Admitted to a maternity unit in labour for the duration of the labour until two hours after birth, where an LMC needs support or where the DHB is primary or secondary/tertiary care provider
  • Admitted for an acute maternity assessment from admission to discharge
  • Whose clinical condition or risk of deterioration needs on-going monitoring
  • Undergoing a clinically indicated induction of labour
  • Requiring a clinically indicated caesarean section until admission to the postnatal ward.
  1. Care for all post birth women as clinically indicated, including observations, lochia, fundal assessment, perineum assessment.
  2. Care for all babies needing time dependant observations, medications, examinations, treatment, or feeds.
  3. Breastfeeding care for all women needing one-to-one support.
  4. Response to any obstetric or neonatal emergency call made in the maternity setting.
  5. Care for any woman or baby requiring transfer to a higher level of care or return to DHB of domicile for clinical reasons.
  6. On-call flight or road retrieval by appropriately trained midwives.
  7. Provision of a midwife to clinically co-ordinate (clinical charge midwife, ACMM and/or clinical midwife co-ordinator, shift co-ordinator) for the inpatient maternity services in order to provide clinical triage and emergency response (this role must be filled by a midwife who has experience in this role).
  8. DHB community midwife assessments or outpatients in services where the DHB community midwifery service is over-committed and cumulative delays related to industrial action may prejudice the health of women and babies.

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