"Valued workforce? Yeah right."
After yet another failed attempt at settling pay negotiations between district health boards and trades union Public Service Association (PSA, which represents allied health workers, union members have gone on a 24-hour strike today – among them health workers from Northland.
About 40 allied health workers, including anaesthetic technicians, oral health therapists, alcohol and drug clinicians, and sterile sciences technicians, gathered in front of Whangārei Hospital this morning holding signs that send a clear message:
"We're worth more than the minimum."
The PSA has been negotiating for the past 18 months for better pay for its 10,000 union members throughout New Zealand, with 342 allied health workers in Northland.
Last Friday, the DHBs had put a new offer on the table that the PSA bargaining team slammed as "completely inadequate" and consequently invited union members to hold strike pickets on Monday.
The Employment Relations Authority this month released a report to both bargaining sides with recommendations to settle the negotiations.
The PSA had signalled if the DHBs honoured the ERA recommendation, they would take the offer to its members.
However, Friday's offer from the DHB bargaining team "was nowhere near the ERA recommendations", Northland sterile sciences technician Steve – who did not want to be fully named – said.
Steve, who is part of the PSA's negotiation team, said the union had requested to release the ERA report to the public, but the DHBs have refused.
He believed the DHBs want to prevent their negotiations set precedence for other payment disputes including ongoing bargaining with DHBs and the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, which represents senior doctors and dentists.
PSA organiser Will Matthews said to "blatantly disregard the ERA facilitators' recommendations" was "not only a moral failing, but an act of bad faith".
"Several government ministers have said publicly that they saw a resolution to the dispute through the recommendations of the authority. Yet what we have received ... is a kick in the guts."
The PSA is calling for negotiations to be handed over to HealthNZ and the interim agency because the union has "lost confidence" in the Ministry of Health.
"There will definitely be more strikes," Steve said. "If they [DHBs] are not careful, we will hold strike actions on July 1 when the new health reforms come into force."
Meanwhile, DHBs spokeswoman Keriana Brooking said the DHBs would not discuss the detail of the ERA recommendations, saying they had made a "decent pay deal".
"The continued industrial action including today's strike is preventable as a comprehensive pay offer presented to the PSA on Friday was rejected without being put to members for consideration.
"The PSA has told us pay equity is the real concern of its members – that's a separate process and our aim is to settle these pay talks so we can concentrate on that," Brooking said.
"We acknowledge bargaining has been protracted and both PSA members and DHBs have been waiting for some time – the sooner we can settle these pay talks, the sooner we can focus on the pay equity claim."
Another strike picket took place in Kaitāia.
The industrial action will have affected elective surgeries today, as well as outpatient clinics and community health visits.