A historic strike led by anaesthetic technicians at Tauranga's only general private hospital is set to take place next week, disrupting surgeries already backlogged from Covid-19.
Anaesthetic technicians employed at Grace Hospital are planning a 24-hour strike on September 16. The representing union believed it would be the first strike of anaesthetic technicians employed by a private hospital in New Zealand's history.
However, mediation will take place on September 15 and if an agreement can be made, the industrial action will be averted.
Peter Won, an anaesthetic technician from Grace Hospital, told the Bay of Plenty Times technicians who were members of APEX, and on individual contracts, had been bargaining with Grace Hospital since June.
"We decided that we wanted fair representation, have a group approach and be acknowledged because we are also a registered healthcare people."
Won said his role was to prepare and maintain anaesthetic equipment for operating theatres or clinics, and help anaesthetists during anaesthetic procedures.
The technicians believe they have inferior terms and conditions of employment compared to their nursing colleagues working alongside them at Grace Hospital and their counterparts employed at Acurity Health Group Hospitals, which is part-owner of Grace Hospital, he said.
They are also wanting pay parity to ensure their workforce is attractive amid a shortage listed on Immigration New Zealand's immediate skills shortage list.
"We weren't asking for anything and everything above and beyond what the normal technician around the country has... but unfortunately there were some differences so we have come to the next logical step."
Grace Hospital said in a written statement while Won and his colleagues were valued team members, the hospital was concerned the negotiations would result in them being reimbursed at a rate higher than its nurses "who undertake significantly longer training regimes".
Won disputed this explaining while nurses had a three-year degree, technicians had a three-year diploma. While both did placement, Won said technicians were work-ready out of study and nurses had to specialise.
Grace Hospital general manager Janet Keys said while the hospital's team of anaesthetic technicians was small, the strike action would mean no operations could take place.
"This will result in surgeries being postponed, which in the post-Covid era means that there will be an even greater backlog of patients waiting for surgery."
She said the hospital regretted the "inconvenience" to patients created by the action of its anaesthetic technicians and said it was hopeful the mediation resulted in a positive outcome.
"We sincerely regret that the response of the Union and its members may have an impact on the patients we care for.
APEX advocate Luke Coxon said bargaining had broken down due to the hospital refusing to agree to parity of conditions, with nurses who anaesthetic technicians work with in theatre.
"Management is also refusing to agree to fair compensation for when an anaesthetic technician is at home but is called back to work," he claimed.
"Our claims are reasonable and affordable, and we can see no reason why Grace Hospital cannot agree to them."
The strike will result in all surgery requiring general anaesthetic to be cancelled.