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The midwives’ union MERAS has issued strike notices for 12-hour strikes from 9am-9pm, on 11-14 February.
At issue is the DHBs refusal to acknowledge the responsibilities and skills of midwives, most of whom on the top step of the core midwife scale earn just $66,755 a year.
Despite successive proposals by MERAS to settle the midwives’ Multi-employer Collective Agreement (MECA) with the 20 DHBs, there has been no change in the DHBs’ position since their initial offer in August last year. The MECA expired in July 2017, 18 months ago.
MERAS industrial co-leader, Jill Ovens, says the union applied for and was granted urgency for a facilitation process in the Employment Relations Authority that started on 14 January.
“There have been four sessions with the facilitator since then and we plan to meet again on Friday (1 February) with the full negotiating teams, which means there’s still a chance the strikes may not progress,” she says.
She says the midwifery profession is regulated by the Midwifery Council which operates under the HPCA Act, and practitioners have a wide jurisdiction to make professional judgements on their own responsibility. In the nation’s maternity units, midwives direct the nursing staff.
MERAS argues that although midwives practice autonomously and have a high degree of responsibility, much the same as doctors, midwives are undervalued and not acknowledged as the specialised health professionals they are.
“This is about protecting the word-leading maternity system we have and ensuring the pay and conditions of these maternity specialists is at a level that recognises the exceptionally important and expert work they do,” she says. “This is about looking after our midwives who look after our women and babies, it’s that simple.”
Gatherings and marches are being planned around the country in conjunction with the February strikes with a hikoi from the south and north coming together at Parliament on 14 February.
Planned action will be as follows:
11 February - Auckland
Midwives and supporters will make their way to Albert Park (marching from Auckland Hospital and the Britomart for members who will come by public transport from North Shore Hospital, Waitakere Hospital and Middlemore Hospital). Once there, at around 10.30am, they will set up at the band rotunda with speeches, music, and a picnic. Things should finish by 12.30pm.
12 February – Hamilton
Midwives and supporters will gather in Garden Place. Times to be confirmed.
13 February – Christchurch / Canterbury
Midwives and supporters will march from Cathedral Square leaving at 11am and heading along Cashel Street ending on the banks of the Avon River opposite the Canterbury DHB Management Building on Oxford Terrace where they will picket until 1pm, followed by a shared picnic in the same area.
14 February - Wellington
Midwives and supporters will gather at the train station around 12.30pm and march to Parliament. Presentations to politicians will start at 1pm.
The strikes will be by DHB area, as follows:
Day 1 11 Feb Northland, Waitakere, Auckland, Counties Manukau, Southern
Day 2 12 Feb Waikato, Lakes, Bay of Plenty, Tairawhiti, South Canterbury, West Coast
Day 3 13 Feb Taranaki, Whanganui, Palmerston North, Hawkes Bay, Canterbury
Day 4 14 Feb Wairarapa, Hutt Valley, Capital and Coast, Nelson-Marlborough