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April 9, 2018 | by  | in News Splash |
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Nursing Strikes

The New Zealand Nursing Organisation (NZNO) has rejected the 2% wage increase offered by New Zealand’s DHB. Roughly 27,000 nurses nationwide came together to vote on the offer before the ballot closed on 22 March.

NZNO will decide if they want to strike in mid April, by ballot vote. Industrial Services Manager Cee Payne has said that a strike is a last resort, if the negotiations with the DHB cannot be settled. She said, “we don’t want to strike if we can help it, but we want to [tell people] we’re running on an empty tank”. She has said that in the event of a strike, adequate life preserving services in hospitals will be available.

There are many underlying issues that nurses have found within the healthcare system that the NZNO are trying to address. Unprecedented pressure on nurses in New Zealand has seen hospitals understaffed and nurses overworked, leading to high staff turnover and lower morale.

Helen Rook, lecturer at the Graduate School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health from the Faculty of Health at VUW, told Salient some of her new postgraduate students had told her they were stressed and burnt out, which is common amongst the student body.

Rook said graduate nurses are very aware and affected by short staffing. “Senior nurses [are] leaving DHB… [nurses] have not gotten a lot of support, particularly our new graduate nurses.”

Salary structure has also been an ongoing battle for nurses, who are not incentivised or recognised for experience. A Statistics New Zealand report from December 2017 states that wages for public sector nurses have remained flat, due to “ongoing collective employment agreement negotiations”.

Rook was told by her students that many were aware of the pay inequality in place. “They are very aware of what some of the challenges are.”

Access to continuing professional development and study leave was another area which members of NZNO found lacking.

In 2004, nurses withdrew a claim for “mandated nurse-to-patient ratios” in return for a pay “jolt”. They were promised an inquiry into developing a national safe staffing model “no later than July 2006,” however the Nursing Review says most public hospital nurses are yet to see a positive difference in numbers of nursing staff on wards.

National Spokesperson for Health, Michael Woodhouse, thinks it is no surprise that the DHB proposal was rejected.

“Labour spent years talking about how the health sector was underfunded and as a result created the expectation that nurses were in for a big bump in their wages yet the first thing it does when it comes into Government is throw $2.8 billion at tertiary students leaving little money to invest in health and other important areas.”

A new grad nurse who wished to remain anonymous has been on the job for 3 months. They told Salient that the job had “ups and downs”.

“We always get told through the degree that the real learning starts after and that is definitely true,” they said. “It’s been a beast none of us knew was coming.”

However, they remain hopeful. “Graduate nurses also have a fresher perspective, greenness, and hunger to make things better.”

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