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Nurses accept government’s fifth pay offer, call off strike

BusinessDesk report by Rebecca Howard
Nurses have voted in favor of the latest pay offer from the government, staving off further strike action and bring nearly a year of negotiations to an end.

New Zealand Nurses Organisation’s industrial services manager Cee Payne said voter turnout was high “with a significant majority in favour.” The new offer, the fifth to be on the table, is expected to be worth $520 million.

Nurses walked off the job on July 12 – for the first time in 30 years – after failing to reach an agreement and “we are very proud that the collective voice of NZNO members, was heard throughout the country and drove up investment in the public health system and workforce,” said NZNO president Grant Brookes.

The NZNO will now work with district health boards on implementation.

Among other things, immediate attention will be placed on improving safe staffing and “the ability to realise pay equity for public sector nurses and midwives by December 2019 will address the historic undervaluing of work in a profession where the majority of employees are women, laying down a foundation for a much safer and valued career in nursing,” Payne said.

DHB spokesman Jim Green said they will work to rebuild the trust that is key to the team-based approach to patient care.

According to Green, the new agreement acknowledges the value of the wider nursing workforce.

“There are three pay increases of 3 percent – two of which take effect immediately. There’s a third increase next year, as well as two new steps at the top of the nurses and midwives scale that specifically recognise the skill and experience of this group,” he said in a statement.

The deal follows an agreement inked last week between the DHBs, the NZNO and the Ministry of Health that was focused on ensuring safe staffing levels for nurses and midwives.

The positive resolution will likely offer some relief to the Labour-led government, which is also dealing with pending strike action from primary school teachers and principals as well as workers at other state entities such as Inland Revenue.

“There is no question that nurses have felt undervalued over recent years. We needed to listen to their concerns and respond in the interests of both nurses and patients,” said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

She noted, however, that while the settlement will go a long way in addressing nurses’ concerns “the government accepts there is still more to be done to better support them. While today represents a conclusion of bargaining it also marks the start of a long-term programme to rebuild our public health system and the status of the nursing profession.”

News from DHBs
District Health Boards are promising to work with the New Zealand Nurses Organisation on the issues raised by nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants during contract negotiations.

The NZNO has announced that members have accepted the latest pay offer and DHB spokesperson Jim Green says they will work to rebuild the trust that is key to the team-based approach to patient care.

“There’s a lot of work to be done and we’re already underway. The Care Capacity Demand Management (CCDM) groups looking at safe staffing levels include NZNO members, and are part of our immediate response with the $38m provided by the government for recruitment.

“The joint work on the CCDM is the first part – if that work identifies more staff are needed, DHBs will also recruit them as well.

“Last week we signed an accord with the NZNO outlining how we’ll work together to ensure there are enough people to deliver patient care – the first reporting milestone is due in three months.”

Mr Green says the new agreement acknowledges the value of the wider nursing workforce.

“There are three pay increases of 3 percent – two of which take effect immediately. There’s a third increase next year, as well as two new steps at the top of the nurses and midwives scale that specifically recognise the skill and experience of this group.

“There is also a commitment to Pay Equity and the DHBs can now continue working with the NZNO on that process.

“For DHBs, it’s about giving the NZNO and its members’ confidence we will deliver on commitments about staffing and resourcing.

“This is a substantial package to address the workforce issues raised by our people and part of a wider initiative to attract, develop and retain our vital nurses and midwives in their careers,” says Mr Green.

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