Skilled healthcare workers threaten strike as some are reportedly leaving for better pay at KFC, Bunnings

Allied healthcare workers are being poached by Australia or quitting to work at KFC and Bunnings amid a pay negotiation stalemate. 

It comes as 10,000 health workers threaten to go on strike after 17 months of trying to reach a pay agreement with District Health Boards.

The workers include technicians, alcohol and drug clinicians and lab workers who say low rates of pay are driving many out of their jobs. On Tuesday union members will vote on a series of strikes including a fortnight of work to rule from May 9 to 20 and a full 24-hour strike on May 16. The results of today's vote will be announced on April 20.

Public Service Association Organiser Will Matthews told AM the money offered by the District Health Boards (DHBs) doesn't keep up with the skyrocketing cost of living. 

"The DHBs have failed to put forward a good offer in mediation so from today members will be able to vote on a fortnight of strike action."

AM host Melissa Chan-Green read out a statement by a sterilisation technician who said they don't make enough to support their family, had to work a second job and knew people in the industry who were leaving to work at Bunnings and KFC. 

Matthews said skilled staff are leaving the industry because they cannot afford to feed their families. 

"We're just asking for a pay increase that helps our members stay afloat with the cost of living," he said. "Sterile supplies technicians require an NZQA level 4 qualification in order to practice - these are qualified healthcare workers who are having no incentive to stay because they can get paid more in easier work. 

"Other members are being actively recruited by health agencies in Australia who are offering them tens of thousands of dollars more than what they earn here." 

Matthew said while negotiations are ongoing, past experience means members aren't hopeful.

"We've had four days of facilitation already which failed to produce an acceptable offer. DHBs have invited us back more recently into facilitation which is positive. But given our experience so far, we've decided to continue with balloting our members for strike action - that can be withdrawn at any point should a good offer be made."

He said the Government needs to step in and provide DHBs with more money so staff can be paid fair wages. 

"We've been in facilitation for 17 months and DHBs and Government have consistently failed to put a fair pay offer for our members forward. There's no good time to strike but we need the Government to know that we are absolutely serious about getting a fair pay offer."

The strike action comes just days after nurses said they felt lied to over the latest pay equity offer which doesn't include the full back pay initially promised.

It also follows hospital staff at Capital & Coast (CCDHB) and Hutt Valley district health boards criticising a $10 bonus for their hard work during the Omicron outbreak, calling it insulting. 

The DHBs and Government have been contacted for comment.  

This article was amended on May 4 to reflect it wasn't Will Matthews who said healthcare workers were leaving for jobs at Bunnings and KFC.