Senior doctors, dentists vote to strike for first time ever

Senior doctors and dentists employed by Te Whatu Ora have voted to strike for the first time ever.

A vote was held by the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) on Monday afternoon and members voted in favour of three proposed strikes. The first strike will take place on September 5, followed by two others on September 13 and 21. All three strikes will last two to four hours.

Strike notices are being issued to Te Whatu Ora on Monday afternoon.

An internal communication from the union, seen by Newshub, said the strike action "reflects the extreme frustration of our members" over the refusal by Te Whatu Ora and the Government to address staff shortages, inflation-match salaries and value the workforce.

Life-preserving services will be maintained throughout the strike.

More than 80 percent of ASMS members voted to take strike action to send a clear message to Te Whatu Ora that enough is enough, they said.

ASMS wanted a consumer price index adjustment for its members this year (April 1, 2023, to March 30, 2024), but this was rejected by Te Whatu Ora.

"Te Whatu Ora will not even pay senior doctors and dentists the bare minimum to ensure their staff do not take a real-terms pay cut for the third year in a row," executive director Sarah Dalton said.

"Every employee in New Zealand deserves to have the value of their income maintained, especially when they are performing critical front-line tasks and being asked to cover as many staffing shortages as our doctors currently are."

Dalton stressed that Te Whatu Ora and its funders are the target of these strikes, not patients. She said doctors have decided that failure to protect the value of their work will only result in more doctors leaving New Zealand or declining to apply for jobs here.

"The net result of doctors leaving is increased pressure on the remaining workforce and longer wait times to patients," she said. "We must stop the downward spiral of our doctors' salaries to protect patients’ right to access healthcare in a timely manner."

ASMS president Julian Vyas said for too long the health system has got away with taking the collective goodwill of doctors for granted.

"At the same time, the system has ignored our concerns about short staffing restricting patient access to care and causing us overwork and burnout," he said. "For years and years, those in charge have failed to address the critical shortage of senior dentists and doctors, and simply expected us to keep putting up with it all this. And now, on top of everything else, we are being asked to swallow another real-terms pay cut."

With many indicating that they have had enough and are looking overseas or to the private sector for opportunities, Vyas said it will leave the public sector further short staffed.

"If there is no end in sight, even more specialists are likely to leave. The first battle is to get our pay just to keep up with CPI."