Scores of allied health workers braved the rain and gathered outside Whanganui Hospital on Monday to demand higher pay.
Protest organiser Cheryl Henderson, a dental technician, said Monday's 24-hour strike was accompanied by two weeks of "work-to-rule", which began on May 9.
That meant staff would work no more than their contracted hours and take all their entitled breaks.
"There has been a lot of support this morning. All the emergency service vehicles have been putting their lights and sirens on as they go past, it's been really amazing," Henderson said.
"We just want a decent, fair offer. There are people here below minimum wage and living wage."
Pay negotiations between District Health Boards (DHBs) and the Public Service Association (PSA) union began in September 2020.
Dental therapists, dental assistants, scientific sterile technicians, physiotherapists, alcohol and drug counsellors and occupational therapists were on hand on Monday.
Other staff in negotiations include therapy assistants, anaesthetic technicians, audiologists, speech language therapists, dietetics, family violence clinicians, haumoana navigators and cultural support, health promotion advisers, hearing/vision technicians and social workers.
A total of 10,000 allied health workers joined the strike around the country.
"Someone from administration has even come over to support us after just his finishing night shift," Henderson said.
"It's not just doctors and nurses who run a hospital, that's only a part of it."
The union rejected an offer by the DHBs on May 13.
DHBs' spokeswoman Keriana Brooking said the offer presented to the PSA 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.
"We've offered decent pay increases with a focus on increasing pay rates for our lower paid assistants, technicians and trainees.
"We need to settle the pay bargaining so DHBs and the PSA can focus on the issues of pay equity that we both agree on."
Kevin Bunker, PSA organiser for Manawatū-Whanganui, said many of the professionals who were striking had undergone three to four years of pre-entry qualifications before beginning their roles, only to be "paid peanuts".
There were close to 500 allied health union members between Whanganui Hospital and Palmerston North Hospital, he said.
"There were no offers you could really count on through that period.
"A facilitator from the Employment Relations Authority has made recommendations and, if they were implemented, the problem would be solved.
"Unfortunately, the Ministry of Health and DHBs walked away from that."
The determination of union members was absolute, with 90 per cent confirming they would continue with action until worthwhile progress was made, Bunker said.
"The ball is in the Ministry of Health and DHB court, not in ours."
Melissa Sklenars was one of a group of sterile technicians protesting outside Whanganui Hospital.
"Most of the girls here are really experienced and they only make about $25.50 [per hour], that's all. It's not fair," Sklenars said.
"Some have been here for 20-plus years. They are full of knowledge and technical ability.
"Surgeons pick up instruments that we clean, and the accountability is on us. The surgeon can't do their job unless we do ours."
Whanganui DHB chief executive Russell Simpson said the DHB supported the rights of PSA members to strike.
"We have worked with the union to ensure we continue to offer life preserving services."
Protesters weren't prepared to "just lie down", Henderson said.
"We were serious, and we have to stand by what we believe in.
"It's not just in the Whanganui Hospital either. We've got Ohakune, Hunterville, Marton, Taihape and Waiouru.
"There are a lot of community staff, like the school dental service and community oral health, the ones that don't get recognition because they are not working on site.
"People seem to forget about them."
The transition from DHBs to the single Health New Zealand entity, scheduled for July 1, wouldn't impact PSA's goals, Bunker said.
"Inflation is running at over 6 per cent now, and these people haven't had a pay rise since 2017. There is some catching up to do."