Nurses strike looms: “People are fed up”

Eva Corlett

Wellington, June 19, 2018

As the prospect of the first national nursing strike in 30 years looms, nurses believe that they have the public’s support – despite rejecting a half a billion dollar pay offer.

Hospitals could be left with a skeleton staff as nurses gear up to walk off the job next month. And while nurses are fearful of leaving their patients with limited care, they feel they have been left no choice.

The latest offer includes increases of between nine and 15% to be rolled out over 18 months.

It nearly doubles the offer from DHBs in February and is worth more than half a billion dollars but nurses say the benefits haven’t been spread across the sector.

Juniors affected

Kathleen, who has worked as a nurse for eight years, said she would have benefited from the DHBs’ offer of a 15% pay rise.

But, she said, the deal would leave junior colleagues in the cold.

“It was not a great pay rise for them and even if we had got that, they would have still gone looking overseas for more money,” she said.

Many young nurses she worked with have contemplated moving to Australia to earn enough money to buy a home in New Zealand, she said.

The hardships of nurses

Much of the public did not understand what extreme pressure nurses were under, she said, until they entered a hospital.

“We are always missing lunch-breaks, on our feet for eight hours a day, doing shift work – it’s exhausting.”

Kathleen works almost every weekend, which limits any social life.

She said that nurses were also regularly abused and attacked while working.

“We get yelled at all the time, I was kicked yesterday. People are fed up. We have a degree and a student loan, we want to live a comfortable life and not be living pay cheque to pay cheque,” she said.

Kathleen said patients had been overwhelmingly supportive of the proposed strike action – the first national nursing strike since 1989.

Others, who were not patients, tended to be less supportive, she said, adding that some thought rejecting a 15 percent pay rise was greedy.

But they did not realise how long it had been since nurses had a pay rise, she said.

The effects of strike

All elective and non-urgent services would stop during the strike, leaving just emergency care intact. Nurses would feel nervous leaving their patients for a day but striking might be their only remaining option, Kathleen said.

Hawke’s Bay Hospital Emergency Department Doctor Scott Boyes said that nurses were vital to making hospitals run smoothly.

A lot of the efficiencies in the services would be tested during their strike, he said, but their non-nursing colleagues supported them.

A strike of such magnitude has been a long time coming, he said.

“There’s ever increasing demand, the patients are more complex, the hours they work are very strenuous.”

No more money left

DHBs spokesperson Helen Mason said there was no more money in the kitty to give nurses, but she said nurses were highly valued and the current offer represented that.

Ms Mason said that the offer they had received was higher than offers made to other workforces. “Which I think really recognises the special workforce and the contribution that they make. I think that half a billion dollars for this workforce is a very, very good deal.”

Health Minister Dr David Clark was disappointed nurses rejected the offer but said the government was committed to funding 500 extra nurses regardless of the settlement outcome.

The two proposed 24-hour strikes are scheduled to take place on July 5 and July 12, 2018.

In the meantime, the union is taking members’ feedback to the DHB on Monday to enter into urgent talks and there will be a last-ditch effort to resolve the dispute and avert strike action.

Eva Corlett is a Reporter at RNZ. Indian Newslink has published the above Report and Picture under a Special Agreement with www.rnz.co.nz

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Photo Caption:

New Zealand Nurses Organisation Industrial Services Manager Cee Payne says that those not registered as nurses at the top of the scale, the pay offer was only 3% a year.

Photo by Rebekah Parsons-King for RNZ.

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