Latest DHB pay offer felt like April Fools' joke - nurses

Senior District Health Board nurses have told Newshub their latest pay offer felt like an April Fools' joke.

District Health Boards (DHBs) say their nurses are essential to the COVID-19 health response. But the nurses say they're not feeling valued.

"A clap won't do, I'm sorry. It's nice they appreciate it but as soon as we push the money issue, it's 'the greedy nurses'. And I think nurses have had enough," says registered nurse Alice McKenzie.

DHB nurses - those who work in our major hospitals - are renegotiating their multi-employer collective agreement.

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) asked DHBs for a wage increase of 17 percent.

"The DHB offer on pay is about a tenth of what members have asked for," says David Wait, NZNO industrial advisor for the DHB sector.

Some senior nurses and nurse practitioners are being offered an increase of less than 1 percent.

"What we've been offered is lower than the rate of inflation. Decade upon decade it's actually a pay cut if you look at it realistically. The price of stuff goes up but our salaries don't," says a nurse practitioner who spoke to Newshub under the condition of anonymity.

DHBs made their offer on March 25 - the union put it to members last week.

"It did feel a bit like it was an April Fools', like 'hahaha they're kidding'. Oh wait, they're not. That's awkward," says the nurse practitioner.

The claim is also asking for more sick leave and implementing a safe-staffing programme, which should be ready by June.

"Safe staffing shouldn't be something we have to negotiate for. Surely it's a given," says McKenzie.

The industry has significant staff shortages and an ageing workforce. The union is warning of an exodus.

"The pay offer from the DHBs doesn't do anything to retain the nurses we currently have. And it doesn't do anything to make the profession attractive enough to train the nurses that we're going to need in the future," explains Wait.

Of the union's 63 claims, the DHBs have agreed or made offers to 35.

"We're just hopeful the government, or DHBs, will do the right thing by us. But we've been waiting a long time," says McKenzie.

DHB negotiation spokesperson Dale Olliff told Newshub the last pay round focused on those at the top of the pay scale, with some nurses getting increases of $10,000

This offer is weighted towards those at the lower end, with Health Care Assistants (HCAs) getting up to an 11 percent increase.

But Wait says without the offer, some HCAs wouldn't have even been paid at the Government's new minimum wage.

"They're among the lowest-paid employees at DHBs, despite the fact they provide direct care to patients. Also, it's a few hundred in a collective agreement that covers nearly 30,000 people," he says.

Olliff says a pay equity settlement expected later this year will give the nurses a financial boost and will be backdated.

"We're asking that's taken into consideration in this pay round," she says.

But McKenzie says pay equity has taken too long.

"It was a carrot held out that was supposed to solve everything, and that was pushed as that was definitely happening at the end of 2019."

In July 2018, nurses walked off the job for the first time in 30 years.

While a repeat is a long way off, nurses say they won't be pushovers.

"So this time, the feeling I'm getting from myself and my colleagues is we're not going to be so easy to just mollify and move onto the next thing," says the nurse practitioner.

DHBs say the union asked for their best offer, and this is it.

The offer is open for feedback until next Sunday - but early indications are it'll be rejected.