At 8am this morning Rotorua Hospital's 11 anaesthetic technicians are stripping off their scrubs for an 168-hour strike.

It's the latest in a series of strikes called by the Apex (Association of Professional and Executive Employees) union members - 16 days in total of industrial action since October last year - as they bargain their collective agreement with the Lakes District Health Board.

All elective surgeries that require a general anaesthetic have been cancelled or postponed during each strike, creating headaches for the DHB, which has already grappled with a series of strikes from junior doctors and midwives.

Aerial shot of Rotorua Hospital. Photo / File
Aerial shot of Rotorua Hospital. Photo / File

For the first time, the group of technicians spoke directly to the Rotorua Daily Post about their work, and what they want changed, after issuing their latest notice this month.


They said they did not want to be striking but had to because of the lack of a settlement.

"It has been custom and practice in the past that a 12-hour break be provided after 10 consecutive hours of work, inclusive of overtime and on-call times, but this provision was taken away from us by Lakes, and we were told a nine-hour break was all we could take."

However the Lakes DHB's acting chief executive Nick Saville-Wood told the Rotorua Daily Post the technicians did their own rosters and had been rostering themselves a break period that did not comply with their employment agreement.

"This came to the attention of management in 2015 and changes were made to ensure that they meet the requirements of their employment agreement."

He said the breaks provided in the collective agreement being negotiated were identical to those for all other anaesthetic technicians in all other district health boards in New Zealand.

"It is only Lakes DHB that is being singled out and targeted by the Apex union."

He said the union and DHB would be better off working together on rostering than break provisions.

Saville-Wood said the DHB "has provided examples of roster patterns that would ensure they don't roster themselves on unnecessary long shifts. However, our DHB offer was declined".


The technicians said throughout their on-call time they could be called in for emergencies and trauma, and to help the anaesthetist in other areas of the hospital.

"This can occur up to two or three times in an evening ... We are very often called at home to see if we can open another emergency theatre, at all times of the day and night, which we volunteer to do during our supposed family time for the safety and wellbeing of the patients ... and to cover sickness within our team at the last minute.

"Our goodwill is starting to waiver".

"We are not only tired and fatigued but we feel that we are undervalued, underpaid unappreciated and are being treated as second-class employees. Our colleagues at Southern Cross are on more per year with no on-call, no weekends or out-of-hours shifts, so we feel that what we are asking for is nothing at all especially when you compare it to the amount of money lost within the DHB while these strikes are occurring."

Saville-Wood said Southern Cross was a private hospital with different work practices, work patterns, and shifts.

"Private hospitals also have their own remuneration structures. The DHB is unable to respond to how anaesthetic technicians are deployed and paid at Southern Cross."

The strike will finish at 8am next Monday.