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Nurses’ pay offer won’t be increased, says Peters after strike plans announced

BusinessDesk report by Sophie Boot
Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters says the pay offer to nurses won’t be increased after the nurses’ union rejected another pay offer from the district health boards this morning.

The nurses are to strike on Thursday, their first in 30 years, though some staff have agreed to provide life-preserving services during the strike. The New Zealand Nurses Organisation and DHBs will go back into Employment Relations Authority-facilitated bargaining this afternoon.

Facilitation is used when collective bargaining breaks down, with the ERA stepping in to help resolve issues. The authority can make recommendations at the end of the process which it may choose to make public and, while parties don’t have to follow those recommendations, they must consider them in good faith. The nurses can continue to strike while facilitation is ongoing.

At a press conference in Wellington this morning, Peters said the government had given its best offer in all of the circumstances, dealing with two expensive issues out of left-field – Mycoplasma bovis, which will cost about $800 million, and the government’s liability for the Psa virus which ravaged the kiwifruit industry. Last month, the High Court ruled that the Ministry for Primary Industries is liable for losses caused to growers by the disease, and Peters said today the government’s liability for that is somewhere between $500 million and $800 million.

“We approached the negotiations in a positive way. The government doubled its offer from the opening position,” Peters said. “We’re still hopeful an 11th-hour reconciliation can happen.”

Peters said the government couldn’t fix sustained underfunding for nurses in one pay round, but might “be able to put forward a far better deal in the future”.

The ERA can fix the provisions of a collective agreement if the DHBs or NZNO asks it to, but only when there has been a serious and sustained breach of good faith in relation to the bargaining, other alternatives have been exhausted and fixing the provisions of the collective agreement is the only effective remedy available.

NZNO industrial services manager Cee Payne said this morning that the union doesn’t believe facilitation will provide a solution which its members will vote for unless there is additional money available.

Helen Mason, chief executive of Bay of Plenty DHB and spokesperson for the DHBs, said she wouldn’t speculate on what would happen if facilitation fails to avert the strike. She said the focus of facilitation would be reaching a resolution quickly, and figuring out the path ahead.

“We’re essentially in an unprecedented situation, and we’re hoping that facilitation that starts very soon will help us determine the next steps,” Mason said. “I believe it’s incumbent on all of us to continue to explore absolutely every option to avoid the significant disruption you will see on Thursday. This is the government’s best offer – it’s an excellent offer, and it is the best offer.”