The essential nature of midwives’ work means striking midwives are struggling to actually strike for more than a few minutes, says a picketing new graduate midwife.

Dani Gibbs was one of the Christchurch midwives picketing outside Christchurch Womens’ Hospital as hospital midwives continue their fortnight of two-hour strikes twice a day across the 20 district health boards.

The MERAS union members – who make up 1155 of the 1400 DHB-employed midwives – are striking after voting to reject the DHBs’ offer, which would keep registered midwives’ pay on par with registered nurses despite different scopes of practice and training requirements.

Gibbs, a new graduate midwife, has been rostered on twice as providing life-preserving services during the strike times and to date has only managed not to work for 10 minutes of those four hours.

“Once I was looking after a sick baby with respiratory issues and I couldn’t leave that baby because there wasn’t enough staff to ensure it would be safe, so I stayed.” She said the second time she stood down for 10 minutes but then had to assist in an epidural handover and was then called to theatre for an emergency Caesarean within the two-hour strike period.

“I think that’s been hard for us to digest,” said Gibbs.

“We want to strike and we want to go off the floor but we can’t… It’s showed how needed we are and nobody can replace us.”

The DHBs’ spokesperson Jim Green says the pay offer to MERAS is a “really, really good deal” that included an agreement to start implementing a separate pay equity claim for midwives from December 31 2019, which would likely lead to a pay differential between registered nurses and registered midwives.

Jill Ovens, industrial co-leader of MERAS, said the pay equity process agreed to was for any pay equity agreement to be backdated to December 31 2019 – not that pay would change from that date. She said hospital employed midwives – having watched the elongated pay equity battle of their self-employed midwives colleagues, which is still not resolved – have little confidence that the pay equity process for employed midwives will be “completed any time soon”.

So in the interim, members were seeking some reshuffling of the pay scale agreed to between the DHBs and NZNO – which represent about 300 of the country’s 1400 employed midwives – to reflect the extra training costs and experience of graduate midwives and an earlier date for introduction of the new top of the pay scale.

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