By Jean Bell for RNZ
Midwives in Auckland and Northland will be the first to walk off the job today as consecutive days of rolling strikes around the country kick off.
Over the coming week about 1500 hospital midwives will down tools across the country in rolling eight-hour strikes following failed negotiations over pay increases last week.
The midwives' union refused to put the DHB's latest offer to members, saying it was worse that two previous offers already rejected by members.
DHB spokesman and Tairāwhiti DHB chief executive Jim Green was disappointed the union was pushing ahead with the strikes despite the latest offer which included a salary bump of $5800 one year after ratification, and an immediate $6000 lump sum payment.
He added the DHBs were also working to finalise a pay equity agreement, which would boost midwives' income.
"We find that disappointing. Instead of planning for strikes, it would be better [for the union] to be talking with their members and seeing how we can get a settlement to the dispute that we have," he said.
"It's more important at this time to be getting into settle this pay round, and even more importantly settle the pay equity claim which will have the lasting benefit that midwives are wanting to see around their terms and conditions of employment."
MERAS co-leader Jill Ovens said the offer was worse than a deal midwife union members had already rejected - and members of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation had also kicked to the kerb - of two increases of $1200 over two years.
It also included a 27-month term with no backpay since the collective agreement expired in January 2019.
"All we're asking for the actual pay increase is to meet the cost of living."
She said the union supported pay equity and would accept interim payment for the pay equity as part of a deal.
Midwives working 'above and beyond'
MERAS union representative Victoria Christian was one of the many midwives walking off the job today in protest over pay and working conditions for hospital midwives employed by DHBs.
"We do an awful lot because we care. Midwives are working above and beyond, they're making sure the women we care for get the best possible care by putting themselves on the line. As much as we don't begrudge doing that, we want the Government to hear what it's like out there," she said.
According to DHB data, most midwives are aged 45 or older - of those, the majority are between 55 and 64.
Christian said this meant the workforce shortage would amplify when this group hit retirement age. This made the strike action about much more than pulling more money in her pay, but about improving working conditions for future midwives.
"It's about the women, and the babies, and the families of the future. If we don't do this now, there's not going to be as many midwives to care for these people."
The number of midwives employed by DHBs had increased by 8 per cent in the past three years.
But MERAS co-leader Jill Ovens said this was not enough to fill the shortage.
"Despite the fact there are more midwives in the country, they are choosing not to work in our hospitals."
Green agreed more hospital midwives were needed and acknowledged the historic undervaluing of hospital midwives in terms of pay and working conditions
"We accept there that there aren't enough [midwives] in the system. We need to do more to be able to make midwifery more attractive."
Strikes planned by DHB
Monday, August 9
Northland, Waitematā, Auckland, Counties Manukau, Southern
11am to 7pm
Tuesday, August 10
Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Lakes, Taranaki, South Canterbury, West Coast
11am to 7pm
Wednesday, August 11
Tairāwhiti, Hawke's Bay, Mid Central, Whanganui, Wairarapa, Canterbury
11am to 7pm
Thursday, August 12
Hutt, Capital & Coast, Nelson-Marlborough
11am to 7pm
Thursday, August 19
8am to 8pm