How much more nurses can earn in Australia than in New Zealand

Nurses threatening to move to Australia for better pay after the Government offered them less than one-tenth of the hike they're after might not be bluffing.

The pay across the ditch is indeed much better.

"There's only so much capacity we have right now," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday, asked why the district health boards (DHBs) aren't offering more

"COVID has cost this country a lot. As much as I would wish to be in a position to be able to reward everyone who has worked so hard, I have to keep that in mind as well - I can't."

The current pay rates were set in 2018. The nurses have been pushing for 17 percent hikes, saying without them staff will head across the Tasman, now that the borders between New Zealand and Australia are open.

"I worked there [Australia] for a year and I was able to work one day less a week, so four days a week, have three day weekends," registered nurse Helen Kemp told The AM Show on Wednesday.

She also had "wonderful working conditions where you were guaranteed you would get your breaks on time".

So, what will it take to avoid an exodus, let alone the planned strike for June 9? 

How pay differs between New Zealand and Australia

According to the Government's website and the nursing union's collective agreement with DHBs, graduate enrolled nurses - those with a diploma - at a DHB start on about $48,632 a year. Once they've had two years on the job, they're paid between $51,333, rising to a maximum of $57,047 after four.

Registered nurses - those with a degree - start on $54,034. After a few years, they typically get between $62,138, rising to a maximum of $77,386. Those with more responsibility can be paid up to $130,653, after eight years in the job.

The work can involve "eight- to 12-hour shifts, including nights, weekends and public holidays" and they "may work in stressful situations, and be in contact with distressed people, diseases and body fluids", according to

Community nurses and midwives start on $54,034, maxing out after eight years at $82,957.

The pay in Australia differs depending on "location, qualifications, experience and seniority", according to industry website HealthTimes. But they're typically higher than in New Zealand. 

The starting rate for an enrolled nurse in Australia is, on average, $62,789 (all Australian figures have been converted to $NZ) - nearly $9000 more than in New Zealand. They max out at around $73,930 - almost $17,000 more than in New Zealand. 

Registered nurses and midwives in Australia start out on average at $71,260 - already more than many with a few years' experience here get - and max out at around $100,000. Most states don't offer quite that much, but the average is skewed by massive pay packets for nurses in ACT ($131,670) and the Northern Territory ($145,300). 

Australian nursing directors - those at the top - can earn in excess of $200,000 a year, according to HealthTimes and collective agreements seen by Newshub.  

At the other end, the picture's no better. Graduate nurses at DHBs get $49,000 in New Zealand, but get an average $61,500 in Australia. 

The strike, scheduled for June 9, is expected to last eight hours. It will include those involved in the vaccine rollout, but not nurses working in managed isolation and quarantine. 

The DHB offer is aimed at boosting the incomes of health care assistants and enrolled nurses, who are paid less than midwives and registered and specialist nurses.

While the Government's announced pay freeze won't stop nurses from rising up the existing pay scales, the New Zealand Nurses Organisation told Newshub last week most had already progressed to the last step.

"DHBs believe our offer is fair and reasonable and we are willing to discuss the response of nurses and midwives in the mediation process," DHBs spokesperson Dale Oliff said on Saturday.