Nurses vote to strike three more times as pay dispute with DHBs continues

Kiwi nurses have voted overwhelmingly in favour of striking another three times in protest over poor pay and working conditions - but DHBs reckon they'll come to a resolution before then.

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) on Tuesday revealed its members had green-lit three protests - one on July 29-30 for 24 hours, another on August 19 for eight hours and a third on September 9-10 for 24 hours.

Lead advocate David Wait said the vote shows nurses are still willing to strike to achieve "the recognition and working conditions that will ensure nursing remains a viable profession".

"This is an history-making set of actions that could take place over the next few months."

It comes just a month after a nurse protest in early June over poor working conditions, chronic underfunding and burnout.

"[This announcement] reflects the level of frustration our members are facing in this current bargaining," Wait says, adding that voting in favour of three separate strike actions has never happened in New Zealand before.

The union had asked for a 17 percent increase, but DHBs offered them a 1.38 percent wage increase originally before revising it last-minute to add on a $4000 lump sum. The proposal was overwhelmingly rejected by nurses.

But it's not just pay they're striking over, it's the burnout too.

"Every day we hear stories of members where they're put into positions where they feel they aren't able to provide quality care, and we know that impacts on patients as well," Wait says.

Last week, the DHBs spent two days with the NZNO and an independent mediator discussing options. These discussions will continue this week, with further mediation scheduled for next Wednesday and Thursday.

Wait is hopeful these talks will secure a deal "that is acceptable to our members" - and he's heartened by the attitude of DHBs, who he says seem willing to "actively seek a solution".

"Progress has been made in our discussions and that has given us some hope a resolution can be found around pay and safe staffing," he said.

The Auckland nursing strike last month.
The Auckland nursing strike last month. Photo credit: Newshub.

DHBs are also optimistic, with spokesperson Dale Oliff confident they can come up with an offer that will settle the pay talks once and for all.

"We're continuing to work on a range of options and will be working with the union again this week to progress those discussions before the DHB and NZNO bargaining teams get back together with the mediator next week.

"I'm pleased to see the NZNO remains optimistic about the joint process, and we also believe focusing on solutions will help us find a settlement."

However Wait says the issues facing nurses across the country remain very real, and the working conditions can no longer be endured.

"We are facing a national health crisis in terms of safe staffing, recruitment and retention... Nursing is a caring profession and it’s heartbreaking nurses feel so undervalued that they would choose ongoing strike action.

"To avoid this, we need the Government and the DHBs to come up with an offer right now that truly recognises the contribution nurses make and that ensures the future of nursing. This is about the wellbeing and safety of everyone in Aotearoa New Zealand."

But there's now competition for our nurses from Australia. A half-page ad in the Weekend Herald from the Queensland Government says: "Registered nurse or midwife looking for a change of scene? Expand your horizons in sunny southeast Queensland." 

Alanna Geary, chief nursing and midwifery officer at Queensland's Metro North Health, says in the next six to 12 months, Australian nurses will start travelling again too.

"I thought it was a really good opportunity, while we've got the COVID bubble, to get an ad out there and let people know we are recruiting," she says.

"My intention was actually a two-way street, it wasn't to poach New Zealand nurses because that's the last thing I think we should be doing."