After 54 years of nursing Jane Gibson took part in her first strike yesterday.
Gibson was one of hundreds of general practice nurses around Northland who stopped work for the day in a bid for equal pay with district health board (DHB) colleagues.
Nationwide, more than 3000 Primary Health Care (PHC) nurses and administrative staff from the Nurses Organisation (NZNO) stopped work for eight hours, affecting 500 GPs and accident and medical centres.
This came after 10 months of fruitless negotiations with the New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA) for pay parity with those holding the same qualifications, skills and experience working for DHBs and being paid 10.6 per cent or about $7500 more.
A group of around 40 nurses donned red - the official PHC colours - and gathered in Whangārei keeping within social distancing or their bubbles, to protest.
Kensington Health's Jane Gibson has 54 years of experience - including both hospital and practice nursing - and decided to undertake her first strike because she feels a lack of acknowledgment for the work practice nurses do.
"I turned up today because I feel really undervalued by the Government. We're the frontline of life and death, we cover everything and we don't turn anybody away. We are also keeping people out of hospital by doing things in the (GP) surgery now."
NZNO Northland organiser Julie Governor said, although the pay parity dispute had been taking place since November last year, their quest had been amplified since Covid-19.
"Practice nurses are expected to manage the complexity of their usual roles with Covid testing and procedures," Governor said.
She said the scope of practice was the same as DHB nursing and included everything from immunisations to intravenous therapy from birth to palliative care.
"Practice nurses have a broad knowledge and provide expert care and advice constantly. It is also a non-stop telephone triage.
"Striking was a huge step as, for most of them, this is their first strike. They lose a day's pay and that's just how underpaid they feel. But they also feel a lot of guilt."
Added Gibson: "We work as a team and are close-knit so it feels terrible that we're not at work today. But our bosses are behind us and they think we deserve it."
Yesterday's strike was backed by senior hospital doctors and dentists who said all healthcare workers deserve investment.
Association of Salaried Medical Specialists executive director Sarah Dalton said: "These nurses are at the coalface of our communities and the Covid pandemic has served to highlight the essential service they provide. It's patently unfair that such pay disparity exists between groups of workers with the same qualifications and experience."
There is similar disparity among senior doctors with those employed in GP practices and non-DHB organisations generally earning significantly less than their DHB counterparts.
"We rely on community-based services for people to access basic healthcare. Our colleagues in communities are critical to improving peoples' health outcomes and they deserve the same salaries and conditions as their hospital colleagues."
When asked in the Covid-19 briefing earlier this week about the strike, Minister of Health Chris Hipkins said he was not going to get involved in industrial negotiations.
"Ultimately they are employed by private practices, the Government is not their employer and so there are a variety of factors that those employers take into account in their negotiations.''