Health Minister Andrew Little pleased as nurses back down from strike action

Health Minister Andrew Little is pleased nurses have backed down on planned strike action over pay to return to the negotiation table. 

Little said on Friday the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO)'s decision to take the Government's improved pay offer to members and to lift strike notices is a "positive move" towards settling District Health Board (DHB) nurses' pay claims. 

Nurses had planned to hold strikes in July, August and September over their pay, but discussions between NZNO and DHBs on nurses' employment agreements have resulted in a new offer that will go out to nurses, hence the strikes have been called off. 

About 30,000 nurses walked off the job last month for eight hours after negotiations with DHBs turned sour. NZNO asked for a 17 percent increase, but the Government said it couldn't afford it.

"Now that DHBs no longer have to spend time preparing to deal with the major disruption a strike would cause we can focus instead on resolving the main issue, which is the nurses' pay-equity claim," Little said. 

"Separate to pay negotiations, I have been driving officials hard to put together a comprehensive and principled offer on pay equity and we are a month away from tabling something that means we can address the long-standing historical unfairness that nurses have faced."

The pay-equity claim is separate from the collective pay agreement, and involves members of NZNO, the Public Service Association and Meras, which represents midwives.

"Nurses have been underpaid for years, largely because it's a female-dominated profession. Settling the pay-equity claim means that for the first time, their work will be recognised and valued as much as comparable professions," Little said. 

"Labour has a proud track record on these issues and we have already increased nurses' pay by more than 10 percent in the four years we have been in Government."

Lead NZNO advocate David Wait said if the offer is not accepted by members the strikes planned for August 19 and September 9 could still go ahead.