Health Minister David Clark vetoing DHB pay agreements, union claims

Health Minister David Clark has been accused of interfering in agreements between DHBs and their staff.

All non-urgent surgeries scheduled at Lakes DHB facilities that require general anaesthetic will be postponed or cancelled this week, as Rotorua anaesthetic technicians strike for five days in a fight for better pay and working conditions.

APEX union advocate Luke Coxon says they aren't asking for much.

"There's only $25,000 difference between the union's proposal and the DHB's... that's the total cost. That's not per individual... The cost to the DHB will run in the hundreds of thousands of dollars."

And there's already a huge waiting list, which Mr Coxon says is about to get about 200 people longer.

"Because of recent strikes in the DHB, they're claiming they've got a two-month backlog - so they're going to be transferring elective patients onto the waiting list."

Mr Coxon told The AM Show technicians in the Lakes DHB area can "go down the road" and get a 25 percent pay rise - more than they're asking for, and might not have to be on-call outside of their usual eight-hour days.

All surgery that requires a general anaesthetic will be postponed, but life-preserving surgery will still be performed.

Mr Coxon says the reason no settlement has been reached is that Dr Clark is "intervening in the collective bargaining process and preventing DHBs from reaching settlements".

"Under law, the unions and the employers are able to sit down and reach agreements. He's taken that authority away from the DHB. Settlements that are reached across the table, he's vetoing; any settlement has to go back to him, he approves it, after a month it may come back and it will bear no resemblance to what's been discussed around the table."

Luke Coxon.
Luke Coxon. Photo credit: The AM Show

Mr Coxon says they've been bargaining with the DHB since 2017, and came to an agreement in the past which Dr Clark vetoed.

"It makes no sense. This is decision-making gone mad. It's completely illogical and it's mind-boggling. This strike should not be happening... I'm angry, my members are angry. We shouldn't be in this situation."

Lakes DHB denied Mr Coxon's claims.

"DHBs are responsible for negotiating settlements, not the ministry or the minister," the DHB told Newshub in a statement.

"DHBs consult with the ministry during bargaining, as required by legislation."

The DHB said ministerial approval is required however when the DHB is "seeking to pursue a course of action in bargaining that is at odds with the Government's stated expectations".

The latest action, starting Monday, will bring total strike action to nine 24-hour days since October last year.

Newshub contacted Dr Clark for a response, but his office deflected the question to the DHB.