Why health workers are striking and leaving for better pay overseas

Vandhna Bhan
Source: 1News

Allied health workers picketing across the country on Monday shared their plight about having high qualifications, yet earning just above minimum wage.

Allied health workers are striking around the country.

Scott Rusbridge is a mental health social worker who this year is planning to move abroad.

“I probably put in an extra 10 hours a week in unpaid overtime. I’ve got a masters degree in social work and I still start off on a $53,000 salary," he says. "It’s terrible”.

In comparison he says the starting rate for his role in Australia would be at least $30,000 more with greater room for progress.

He’s one of thousands of workers who have been fighting for fair pay for 18 months now.

One demonstrator in Auckland told 1News she’s coming up to her 20th year working with the DHB and she’s still “practically on minimum wage”.

Another health worker says she’s been working for 12 years in New Zealand in the same role and says, “it’s time we need to be paid the same as our colleagues from other health sectors”.

Allied health workers represent over 70 different specialities from lab technicians, councillors, to physiotherapists and dental workers.

The NZ Dental Association is in support of Monday's action that is seeing 10,000 workers strike for 24 hours, meaning significant disruptions in patient appointments and elective surgeries, but emergency services will remain operating.

“We've got a crisis. We've known about this situation looming over us for the last probably five years or more, and the Government has promised to make some further investment into the service,” says Dr Katie Ayers from the NZ Dental Association.

Ayers says its Kiwi children who are suffering from this workforce crisis. “Almost half of New Zealand children are overdue for their check-ups,” she says.

They’re hoping to see some investment in this weeks budget to retain much needed staff.

“What we're really seeing is a move to the private sector where they can command two to three times the salary they can achieve in the public sector,” she says.

The PSA union says last weeks offer from the DHB’s failed to take on the recommendations of the Employment Relations Authority.

But, in a statement the DHB spokesperson on this matter Keriana Brooking said the’ “strike is preventable, as a comprehensive pay offer presented to the PSA on Friday was rejected without being put to members for consideration”.

“The facilitation recommendations were really clear and both parties agreed they would accept those recommendations so the fact they’ve given an offer that’s not in keeping those recommendations there’s no way we could take that offer out. The bargaining team looked at it and said no way,” said one of the PSA organisers Caz Thomson.

“The only pay increases in the last two years is because minimum wage has gone up. That’s not okay. These are people with qualifications, skills, experience, they do really important work."

Workers today saying the offer from last week was “disrespecting” them completely, some calling it “below par” and “absolutely disgraceful”.

Monday's action is just the beginning, with two weeks of industrial action to follow in hopes the DHB’s can come up with a better offer, or face further strikes, further disruptions and further loss in the number of workers to the private sector or to overseas.