Bay of Plenty midwives who took part in the first of two weeks' of strikes were not manning picket lines but providing life-preserving services instead.

More than 100 midwives employed by the Bay of Plenty and Lakes district health boards took part in the nationwide strikes which began yesterday and will continue for two weeks in two-hour work stoppages.

Midwifery Employee Representation and Advisory Service co-leader (midwifery) Caroline Conroy said midwives who were rostered on were still at work during the strikes providing life-preserving services.

Conroy said the strikes would not have gone ahead if women and their babies had been compromised.

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"But the fact that some DHBs have requested more midwives than would normally be rostered on duty highlights the severe under-staffing in maternity units around the country."

Conroy said in Tauranga the request for extra staff was higher than the number of midwives who would work a regular shift.

"This really shows the stress midwives are put under in the workplace."

She said Tauranga midwives were unable to protest while the strike was happening as they were still working, but she hoped some midwives would be able to exercise that right over the coming days.

The extent of life-preserving services midwives still provided during strikes reinforced the union's position that as health professionals, midwives' work was highly skilled, with a significant level of responsibility, and therefore midwives should be paid accordingly, Conroy said.

Bay of Plenty District Health Board midwife leader Kirsten Rance said Tauranga Hospital was able to meet the needs of women and their babies in both Tauranga and Whakatāne hospitals during yesterday morning's strike action.

"MERAS had agreed to the number of midwives to provide 'preserving services', to ensure any needs arising could be safely met."

Rolling strikes would continue over the next two weeks where 540 strike notices had been issued to all 20 district health boards around the country.

Q&A:

Which midwives are striking?

DHB-employed midwives who are under the MERAs agreement

Why are they striking?

The strike follows the DHBs' rejection of a proposal that had been put forward by MERAS, in urgent mediation last Wednesday, in an attempt resolve the long-running pay dispute.

When are the strikes?

Employed midwives are striking for two hours, twice a day, over a two-week period through to December 5.