Voting closes today on the DHB pay offer with undervalued and stressed nurses turning out in high numbers to vote, says NZNO industrial services manager Cee Payne.

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation will be informing the 20 district health boards and its DHB members of the ballot results on Monday morning (March 26) and the general public on Monday afternoon.

Many nurses have taken to social media in recent weeks to voice their frustration with the DHBs’ offer which – if rejected – could possibly lead to the first national strike action in nearly 30 years.  But the earliest that any industrial action – including a strike – could take place is at least eight weeks away.

Payne said if nurses voted ‘no’ the first step would be key NZNO staff and the national delegates meeting to discuss whether to proceed with industrial action and, if so, what form of action.  So the earliest a strike or industrial action ballot could go out to members was probably at least four weeks away and around a further four weeks would be required to allow NZNO DHB members the opportunity to cast their vote.

A DHBs’ spokesperson told the New Zealand Herald that, while it hoped nurses had voted ‘yes’ to the deal, it had started plans to meet next week to discuss a national contingency plan if nurses voted ‘no’ and went on to take industrial action.

“If [the pay offer] is rejected we’d love to meet with the union to find out what we can do to avoid industrial action,” the spokesperson told the Herald.  Kevin McFadgen, the DHBS’ negotiating team lead, said at the time the revised offer was made that it had improved the offer after listening to members concerns and believed it addressed the issues and claims on the table.

Payne said safe staffing and working conditions were absolutely a priority for staff with members reporting increasing workloads for some time, along with the fact that patients are sicker than 15 years ago when NZNO held its Fair Pay campaign and first sought a national safe staffing model.

“We have (reports) of persistent unsafe levels of staffing which is resulting in stress, fatigue and lack of job satisfaction for our members,” said Payne.  “I think it is contributing to the low morale we are seeing out there at the moment and we are certainly hearing stories of people leaving because of the pressure in the system.”  The unsafe staffing was impacting on shift rosters, length of shift as people work on to cover for staff shortages and flow-on impacts on professional development support and study leave.

“It’s a pretty grim picture out there at the moment for nurses and their nursing colleagues,” said Payne.  “In the end there’s a strong sense coming through of being undervalued by their employers and undervalued as a profession.  And as a profession feeling they can’t work to those standards that they expect of themselves which causes a lot of internal stress.”

Payne said NZNO had been calling since 2006 for DHBs to implement safe staffing and more than a decade on only one DHB had fully implemented the care capacity demand management (CCDM) tools and there were some DHBs that hadn’t even started.

“It’s been incredibly slow and we have been very frustrated by that and we’ve tried to strengthen the clause in the DHB MECA every time we’ve gone into bargaining and haven’t been able to do that…”

She was pleased that the current offer built implementing CCDM into the collective agreement and set a deadline for rolling out CCDM to all wards.  But meanwhile the public hospital system now had an acute, unsafe staffing situation which would need to be addressed.

Payne added that the ‘#hearourvoice’ social media, NZNO Facebook post, the NZNO ‘I heart nurses’ petition and last year’s  Shout Out for Health campaign campaign reflect the emotion of members and their real sense of being undervalued.

The union has faced criticism from some members about its campaign stance while negotiations were underway but president Memo Musa has pointed out that as an essential service NZNO was bound by  a Code of Good Faith under the Employment Relations Act.

In a response to a recent Facebook post about NZNO being “over cautious” the union posted a reply saying the last time there was a ballot for national industrial action by junior doctors the DHBs had filed an injunction to challenge the validity of the union members’ decision. “We think it is of the utmost importance that our actions protect and uphold your collective decision,” said the NZNO post.

Meanwhile the New Zealand, please hear our voice Facebook page founded by two nurses to get public backing for the nurses’ cause now has 41,000 members.  The petition they launched a week ago – calling for safer staffing and working conditions for New Zealand nurses – now has more than 18,000 signatures. They are also proposing a series of marches on May 12, International Nurses Day, with nine currently proposed from Whangarei to Dunedin.


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