A courageous panel pay offer recommendation is needed to avert today’s strike ballot not leading to a winter strike by public hospital nurses, says nurses’ union NZNO.

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation today announced that much anticipated secret strike ballot will go-ahead from Monday with its stressed but determined district health board nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants voting on whether to take two 24 hour strikes on July 5 and 12.

Cee Payne, the NZNO’s industrial services manager said it was now beholden on the independent panel, the Government and the 20 DHBs to be “courageous” and resolve the dispute to prevent a strike in winter.

“The mood of nurses is such that it is going to take some effort for nurses to feel they are valued again,” said Payne.

“The commitment to secure safe patient care and a salary structure that incentivises nurses to remain in the profession has led the (delegates) committee to this important decision,” said Payne. “Strike action is a last resort if a settlement acceptable to our members cannot be achieved.”  She believed the public would understand that nurses don’t want to have to resolve the dispute by striking in the busiest time for the health sector but felt strongly enough that they were ready to vote on striking in winter.

The proposed strike dates have been set to allow time for NZNO to consider the recommendations from the independent panel set up to try and resolve the current impasse.

A DHBs’ spokesperson Helen Mason says the 20 DHBs remain optimistic that the independent panel process will find a pathway to address the pay and workload issues raised.

“The frustration of NZNO members has been made very clear over the last two weeks of rallies and we understand the purpose of the ballot about possible industrial action,” said Mason who added that DHBs were strongly committed to exploring all options for a settlement.

The strike ballot will allow NZNO’s DHB members to vote online or by post. The ballot is open for 30 days in accordance with the NZNO constitution and closes no later than 5pm on Friday 25 May 2018. The postal ballot will need to be returned by Tuesday 22 May 2018.

The new DHB pay offer resulting from the panel process is expected to also be tabled by late May and NZNO is pencilling in possible ‘face-to-face’ ratification meetings for June for if the bargaining team decides the new offer could meet members’ pay and safe staffing concerns.

On May 17 comes the Budget with Payne saying one positive was the public was on the nurses’ side and was telling the Government to put more money into health to “rectify ten years of under investment”. Extra funding would also allow the panel and DHBs too boost their offer to nurses.

Payne said it would be re-iterating to the panel not only member’s critical concerns about safe staffing but also the loss of pay parity for DHB nurses, midwives and health care assistants as a result of last year’s $2 billion pay equity settlement to care and support workers.

The result was from next year an experienced rest home health care assistant –  would be on $53,500 which was higher than a new graduate registered nurse with a three year degree and higher than the current enrolled nurse pay scale. Likewise the top of the teacher’s basic pay scale was $7000 higher than the registered nurses’ five step basic scale and the top of the New Zealand nursing pay scale was $10,000 to $20,000 lower than nurses across the Tasman. Payne said these were issues that the independent panel would have to address to reverse the current mood on the ward floor where the mood was in favour of striking.

Payne said that mood reflected the level of moral distress currently being experienced by its stretched and stressed members which was also brought home by nurses responding to a call yesterday by the union for stories with 500 responses in just six hours.

She said one of these stories illustrated how many nurses were feeling by using the analogy of airline passengers always being told to put on their own oxygen masks before helping others.  Payne said nurses’ instinctive response was usually to look after others first.  “But the moral distress is making nurses make the call to put on their masks first – as something needs to be done. Because the #healthneedsnursing campaign is about the reality that you can’t run hospitals without nurses.”

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 voted to reject the 20 DHBs’ revised pay offer.

The first and to date only national strike was held in 1989 but regional strikes were held in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

NZNO chief executive Memo Musa said as soon as notice of strike action is given to the DHBs they must develop a contingency plan and take all reasonable and practicable steps to ensure continued provision of essential or life preserving service if strike action occurs.

“The statutory Code of Good Faith for the public health sector requires employers to provide for patients safety by ensuring that life preserving services are available to prevent a serious threat to life or permanent disability during any strike action,” said Musa.

The DHBs’ press statement in response to the strike ballot focused on its hopes of resolving  the dispute before strike action.

“DHBs acknowledge the issues raised are important to nurses and midwives and we want to give them confidence that we can address them,” said Mason. She said DHBs were focused on delivering more and better care to our communities including growing and supporting the workforce to meet needs of a growing population with increasingly complex conditions and chronic illnesses.

“Nursing staff are critical to that and we are committed to finding a solution that recognises and starts to address their concerns,” she said.

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