10,000 allied health workers vote to strike in May

Source: 1News

Allied health workers have voted "overwhelmingly" to take strike action next month, the Public Services Association union says.

Ministry of Health building in Wellington (file photo).

The PSA said the strike action would see essential staff "work to rule" - follow their working rules and hours exactly, thus reducing efficiency - between May 9 and 20.

These workers also planned to strike for 24 hours on May 16.

The vote followed a year and a half of waiting for DHBs to make "a decent offer" to settle collective agreements, PSA organiser Will Matthews said.

The union represented 10,000 allied, public health, scientific and technical professionals who work in DHBs. Workers told 1News in February that, when compared to other health professionals, they were poorly paid and didn't have good working conditions.

The union had been petitioning Health Minister Andrew Little to give DHB negotiators more scope so they could make an offer that addressed fair pay, low wages, and guaranteed safe staffing.

"We’re at the point where nothing else can be done without the Government authorising the DHBs to make a better offer," Matthews said.

"We’re so close to getting this over the line. Minister Andrew Little can change the lives of 10,000 essential workers if he just comes up with a bit more.

"The window for him to do that without strike action taking place is rapidly closing."

In a statement, Health Minister Andrew Little told 1News he urged the negotiating parties to continue working with the existing facilitation process.

"I understand progress has been made in the past couple of weeks, even to the point of the parties asking the facilitator to defer making a ruling," he said.

"The sooner the parties can reach agreement on the collective agreement, the sooner work can commence on the pay-equity claim in the name of this workforce.

Little said the claim would be complex "because it covers around 130 occupational groups, but resolving it is the real answer to the aspirations of this workforce".

Hawke's Bay DHB chief executive Keriana Brooking, speaking on behalf of DHBs, said in a statement that they and PSA met with a facilitator last week.

"While no settlement was reached, both parties agreed progress was made."

She said the facilitator, an independent expert who knew the sector, would be giving a recommendation next week.

"DHBs are hopeful the facilitator’s recommendation will provide the basis for a settlement and prevent the planned strikes.

"It is a mutual priority of the DHBs and the PSA to address issues of low pay, but the substantive improvements that we have agreed can’t be implemented until there’s an overall settlement of the MECA [Multi Employer Collective Agreements].

"Once the MECA’s concluded, the parties can focus their efforts and energy on resolving the Allied Pay Equity claim," Brooking said.

Sterile services technician Steve said he didn't make enough to support his family.

"I have to work a second job. There is nothing to encourage us to stay in our work and we are constantly short-staffed due to people leaving for higher-paying jobs at places like Bunnings and KFC."

Mental health occupational therapist Nichola said her role was similar to that of a mental health nurse in experience and qualifications.

"I will consistently earn thousands of dollars less than a nurse throughout my career. The systemic undervaluation of our work leaves us burned out, depressed and considering other career options".

She said Australian health agencies were targeting people in New Zealand for recruitment because of the low wages.

"We are being contacted by Australian providers offering us tens of thousands of dollars more than the DHBs in New Zealand.

"Even the starting wage in Australia is more than many of us could hope to earn here."

PSA attempted to take strike action in March but failed after the Employment Court upheld an injunction filed by DHBs. The DHBs claimed the strikes were illegal because the planned action related to a separate pay equity negotiation and not ongoing pay talks.