Former speaker of the house Professor Margaret Wilson is to chair the independent panel hoping to break the pay talks stalemate between nurses and district health boards.

The three members of the panel – including two former nurses – were announced late today in a joint statement by the New Zealand Nurses Organisation and the 20 district health boards. The panel is expected to meet next week and soon after start receiving submissions from the two parties leading to final recommendations being made to the Government, NZNO and DHBs by mid-May. The Government’s first Budget is due to be announced on May 17 and the Government would need  to commit more funding before the DHBs – many of them in deficit – could make an improved offer.

The panel process was first proposed late last month by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to help resolve the pay impasse – and avoid the risk of nurses striking this winter – shortly after the New Zealand Nurses Organisation’s (NZNO) district health board nurses, midwives and healthcare assistant members voted to reject the 20 DHBs’ revised pay offer. This week NZNO gave the green light to the panel going ahead but said it would continue to hold its ongoing #HealthNeedsNursing protest rallies and progress with plans to ballot its members on taking strike action in support of its call for safe staffing and fair pay.

The spokespeople for the two parties – NZNO chief executive Memo Musa (himself a former DHB CEO) and Dr Ashley Bloomfield, the chair of the DHBs’ Employment Relations Strategy Group – said they welcomed the Government’s appointment of Professor Wilson as the independent chair.

Wilson, a former Attorney General and Minister of Labour under the Helen Clark Government, was Speaker of Parliament from 2005-2008 before returning to teach at the University of Waikato where she was the founding dean of the law school.

The DHBs’ nominated panel member is former nurse and former Whanganui DHB chief executive Julie Patterson who took a leading role in the joint DHBs NZNO Safe Staffing Healthy Workplace governance group and has worked closely with NZNO.

Former NZNO chief executive Geoff Annals is the NZNOs’ nominated panel member.  Currently chief executive of Accuro Health Insurance, the former nurse was Waikato Hospital general manager before becoming NZNO CEO from 2001-2012.  He was involved in the historic fair pay campaign leading up to the ‘pay jolt’ of 2005 and the establishment of the Safe Staffing Healthy Workplace Unit.

Following the panel making its recommendations to the Government on the issues under negotiation – including an immediate pay rise, safe staffing issues and pay equity – the DHBs will make an updated offer to NZNO.

In an update to members NZNO industrial adviser Lesley Harry said the panel proposal was a positive opportunity but the panel recommendations would not be binding and NZNO believed the Government would need to provide more funding for DHBs to make an improved.

“Notwithstanding the Panel process we will need all members to vote in the upcoming strike ballot,” she said in the update. “We need members to be prepared to stand together should the Panel process not deliver an acceptable outcome.”

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