District Health Board working conditions are being described as "outrageous" by the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) ahead of a planned strike on Wednesday, after the rejection of a second pay negotiation offer.
Glenda Alexander, the NZNO's industrial services manager, told The AM Show staff have had enough and tens of thousands of nurses will take to the streets in the nationwide strike.
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson says he doesn't think the strike can be avoided.
"I do believe that this action will go ahead. I think, as you've heard, life-preserving services are maintained during this kind of action," said Robertson, appearing on The AM Show after Alexander.
He added New Zealand was in a "post-COVID era".
"Nurses got a really big pay increase from the Government two or three years ago which was to make up for not having been paid well a decade before that.
"The next step, really, is for the DHBs and the nurses to work through whether there's a way forward from here."
Nurses were originally offered a 1.38 percent wage increase. DHBs then gave a last-minute revised pay offer - a $4000 lump sum, which was rejected on Monday.
Asked if the 1.38 percent offer was acceptable, Robertson said: "I think we have to be really careful about those blanket percentages when you average them out across the whole workforce.
"One of the things we've been really clear about is the pay of the lowest-paid New Zealanders lifts and in particular, in the case of nurses, that means starting graduates who I think are around $54,000 with their flat rate… We do want to try and move those people up.
"I hear the stories and I heard what Glenda Alexander had to say earlier on. We've been working on conditions, in particular on safe staffing levels."
Alexander earlier said the NZNO is blaming a lack of urgency for the strike.
"It's taken two years so far and people are tired of waiting," she told host Duncan Garner.
"They [nurses] are tired - they worry constantly that they might make a mistake. They put themselves on the line to make sure they don't make mistakes but they're really exhausted."
Negotiations will continue after the strike, as both sides have agreed to meet.