The protracted negotiations over the largest and precedent setting agreement between the 20 district health boards and the nearly 30,000 New Zealand Nurses Organisation’s DHB members were finally settled in early August after more than a year of talks and a 24-hour strike.

The impasse had caused delays to five sets of pay talks underway between the DHBs and four other unions representing more than 20,000 allied health and technical staff, midwives, mental health & public health nurses, junior doctors and DHB clerical staff with a combined salary bill of more than $1.5 billion.

But it is understood DHB offers are now in the wings and close to being finalised and ready to go out to the vote for midwives represented by MERAS and for mental health and public health nurses represented by the PSA. The Public Service Association is also returning to negotiations tomorrow (August 30) for its allied health and technical staff agreement and was hoping that would also lead to a settlement offer being made.

Meanwhile about 3000 house officers and registrars covered by the NZ Resident Doctors’ Association have been told that negotiations to date for a new Resident Medical Officers (RMO) agreement had been frustrating, with the DHBs indicating in early August that they were “not going to make any reasonable offer in line with what the offers nurses had been offered”.

The MERAS midwifery MECA expired at the end of July last year and MERAS co-leader Caroline Conroyco-leader – which represents most of the DHBs about 1,400 midwives – said positive discussions were ongoing with the DHBs over the new MERAS multi-employer collective agreement (MECA).  In June she said MERAS had guaranteed its members “at least” the equivalent pay scale as that settled by NZNO but was also seeking a pay differential between DHB core midwives and registered nurses – which were currently on the same pay scale.

PSA DHB national organiser, Ashok Shankar said it had been discussing with DHBs an offer – similar to that offered to NZNO – for its about 3500 DHB mental health, public health nurses and support worker members and it was hoping to hear next week that the offer had received Cabinet sign-off and was ready to go to a members’ vote.  The next most longstanding negotiations – for allied health and technical staff whose MECA expired in October last year – were to continue next week and it hoped to reach a settlement based on the NZNO settlement that would also then to go to Cabinet for approval. Shankar said responses to safe staffing and workload issues were also part of the settlements under negotiation.

Negotiations were also ongoing for the first of the four PSA DHB clerical worker agreements with the major focus of the talks being on a pay equity settlement for the largely female workforce.

RDA advocate Melissa Dobbyn said the DHBs had yet to table any claims or an offer for the RMO MECA which expired at the end of February. It was understood that the DHBs would table a claim when the parties met next week. But to date negotiators had been frustrated that DHBs seemed to want to relitigate the 2016 disputes which lead to junior doctors taking strike action before settling in early 2017 a 12 month agreement with a 1.5 per cent rise in return for new safe rostering rules.

A DHBs’ spokesperson said negotiations were ongoing with the five groups with each at a different stage and  normal policy for the DHB’s negotiating representatives at DHB support agency TAS.

The Workforce Services Group at TAS provides support to the country’s 20 DHBs in negotiating the 21 national and regional multi-DHB collective agreements covering over 71,000 DHB employees.

Meanwhile two more MECAs have now started negotiations, the E tū agreement covering health services workers – including hospital cleaners, orderlies, security officer and food workers – and the APEX agreement for medical physicists.

Approximate annual cost of DHB MECAs currently under negotiation*
E tū $66 million
Resident Doctors Association (RDA) MECA $503 million
PSA Allied, Public Health & Technical MECA (Auckland region) $223 million
PSA Allied, Public Health & Technical MECA (rest of NZ) $348 million
PSA Mental Health & Public Health Nursing MECA (Auckland region) $116 million
PSA Mental Health & Public Health Nursing MECA (rest of NZ) $101 million
PSA Northern Clerical & Lower North Island Clerical $202 million
MERAS (midwives) MECA $52 million

*The estimated current annual salary bills are calculated based on DHBs’ recent payroll data for the whole workforce potentially covered by each of the MECAs (i.e. includes non-union members).


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