Thousands of nurses to refuse overtime, tired of 'bearing the brunt' of lack of staff, says New Zealand Nurses Organisation

Thousands of nurses will refuse overtime this week as the industry continues to deal with a lack of staff, which the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) says has "pushed everyone to the brink".  

The Nurses Union has put the call out to its members as it disputes how Health New Zealand compensates nurses for overtime, but the new health authority hit back warning them their "strike" may be illegal.

NZNO CEO Paul Goulter told AM on Monday nurses will say no to any overtime work all of this week but did worry about the disruptions it could cause. 

"I think every nurse is always worried about disruption because they are obviously dedicated to the work," Goulter told AM co-host Ryan Bridge. 

"But after years of bearing the brunt of successive Governments' failure to staff and ensure there are enough nurses, this was just one thing too much."

He told AM the core issue is there just aren't enough nurses in the country.

"No one has put in enough measures to ensure there are enough nurses, so when winter, COVID-19, colds, flu happened, it just pushed everyone to the brink," he explained.  

"Nurses don't like doing this, but fundamentally, until someone takes some notice and is prepared to start to put in place short, medium and long-term measures to fix this, we're just going to be back here again probably before Christmas and certainly next winter." 

He estimates the industry is 4000 nurses short and said the current work environment is putting staff and patients at risk. 

New Zealand Nurses Organisation Paul Goulter said the country is about 4000 nurses short.
New Zealand Nurses Organisation Paul Goulter said the country is about 4000 nurses short. Photo credit: AM

"Obviously, every now and again, there are going to be places where people are going to be asked to work extra, but the point here is this is systemic. It's built into the system. The system relies on nurses being prepared to work additional shifts on an ongoing and continual basis," Goulter said. 

"I don't think anyone would accept that is reasonable, particularly when, as nurses do, you're making basically life and death decisions all along the way and this is why we think this is a health and safety issue. 

"Patients' health and safety are at risk as well as nurses' health and safety at risk, so the employers just have to respond to that and not just start blaming the nurses."

Goulter said Health New Zealand has told NZNO no nurses will be punished for refusing extra shifts.  

Te Whatu Ora head of people Rosemary Clements said in a written letter, the move was likely an unlawful strike as it was a refusal to do something that was a normal part of the job.

"Nonetheless, in recognition of the outstanding contribution that NZNO members have made over the last several months, we do not wish to take a litigious approach to this issue," Clements said, RNZ reported.

Watch the full interview with Paul Goulter above.