In their words: Nurses on what it's like at the coalface

Nurses employed by district health boards (DHBs) are very likely to take part in strike action. Most DHB nurses are members of the nurses' union, and the members have voted to reject the latest offer from DHBs.

The offer was for three sets of 3 percent pay increases, with two new pay levels to be added for experienced nurses working in hospitals.

The Government says there's no more money in the kitty for higher pay offers, so DHBs will need to rework the offer within the current limit.

Newshub spoke to three nurses. They work in three different parts of New Zealand - some urban, some rural.

All of them wanted to remain anonymous so they could talk freely about pay conditions and share their thoughts on likely strike action.

Alice, 50 - District nurse

Alice has been a nurse for 20 years and has a master's degree. She's a district nurse and works in the community. That means usually working alone, driving between patients. She reached the top pay level years ago, so hasn't seen a substantial pay rise in the last 10 years.

I support that we rejected the pay offer. I think what was offered wasn't recognising the level we were after in terms of staffing and our pay dispute. We've put up with years and years of 2 percent increases.

We don't have the base level of staff we need. Community nurses are seeing an increase in acuity of patients, so the time it takes to see each patient means we constantly have to get in casual staff.

Shift work and this type of job is very stressful, so graduates work 0.9 full-time hours. With burnout, I've seen a lot of my colleagues reduce hours. Predominantly it's because of overloading of work.

I will be striking. There will be very few nurses working, so it will be only essential services.

The proposed band [introductions are] for the hospital, not community [nurses]. Those increased levels are already present in the community setting. If they are going to bring the level up for hospitals, it needs to come up for senior community nurses [too].

You are dealing with people's lives in the community. You don't necessarily have anyone to back you up.

When we work an afternoon, that's an eight-hour shift, plus 10 hours on call. You can't go to the movies or the gym because you need to be able to answer the call within 20 minutes.

Sophia, 26 - Private practise

When Sophia graduated, she worked in a hospital for a DHB. She now works in a private practice because of the stress of hospital work and the shift work. She earns about the same amount as a nurse employed by a DHB but doesn't have to work shifts.

The main reason I went with a private practise is the stress of working in the hospital because of shift work and understaffing and feeling like I couldn't give the care that I wanted because of that understaffing. The lifestyle of working in private was very appealing to me.

I get [paid] more than the standard rate but because I don't work shift work, I don't get the extra pay nurses working shifts get. The pay does turn out to be about the same, but conditions are way better for the pay.

I am in two minds about the strike action. Part of me thinks, 'Good on the nurses.' I do think they should get paid more and have better working conditions. I think something does need to be done.

The other part of me - I did work in Nepal, in a hospital there, which made me realise how good our health system is here. We don't have it as bad as other countries. I definitely think conditions three years ago in hospital weren't good and weren't appealing to new hospitals, so I do think something needs to be done to make it more appealing and attractive to those thinking of nursing as a career.

Jane, mid-50s - Day unit staff nurse

Jane works day shifts. She started nursing at 17 and has been nursing for 40 years. If two new pay levels are added, she will benefit.

I've been surprised about how determined people are this time around, because I've been nursing a long, long time. I've been involved in all the various industrial action over the years, and it's been a wee bit ambivalent [in the past] because we don't like to disrupt our patients - cause them any stress.

This time they are a lot more adamant and determined that they are going to see things through, because it's just been too many years of 1 percent, 2 percent [pay increases].

I don't work in a ward, which are horrendous. The young ones who do their degree, [and then] work in the hospital wards, in a few years, they can't take the pressure.

Patients are sicker these days - sicker and sicker - 'cause they can do much bigger operations [and] they still try to save 95-year-olds, so the workload is huge.

Part of this pay thing is to try to make sure there's enough money in it to ensure there will be nurses in the future. There are lots and lots of import nurses, so there might be nurses in New Zealand in the future, but they won't speak English as their first language.

My yearly rate stopped going up after five years as a staff nurse. There will be two extra bands in there for me. [But] they need to start off with something like [a] 10 percent [increase], then add the bands.

With all of my workmates - there are about 35 of us - there already are guilty feelings [about the strike] because when there's real threat to life, we are on call.

Even though we all want to go on strike, for some of us, our conscience doesn't allow us to say, 'No, I'm not available for someone who is dying.' No one wants to not be on strike, but no one is prepared to leave someone to bleed to death.

Some parts of the new offer are quite good. At the moment we only get $4 for being on call - and you can't go far, can't drink - but the new offer is $8, which is much better, so some aspects of the new offer are not too bad.

Most people feel [overall the offer is] not enough and not soon enough.