Midwives employed by DHBs will go ahead with planned rolling strikes next week after mediation on Monday failed to reach agreement.
The 8-hour strikes will start on Monday [9th August] in Northland, the three Auckland DHBs and Southern DHB, and move towards Wellington, DHB by DHB, over the following three days, culminating in a rally at Parliament on Thursday [12th August].
MERAS, the union for around 1500 DHB-employed midwives, also issued strike notices yesterday for a further 12-hour strike (8am to 8pm) on Thursday, 19th August.
Jill Ovens, MERAS Co-leader (Industrial) says the problem is there is limited ability to negotiate because the DHBs’ advocates are not the decision-makers.
“The DHBs’ advocates have no mandate to move beyond an offer that has been through several layers of bureaucracy to be approved,” Ms Ovens says. “It is so frustrating, and must be very difficult for them.”
She says that among those who make the decisions (the DHBs’ Chief Executives and Ministry of Health officials), there is no sense of urgency to address the critical shortage of midwives in DHBs.
“As we know from the contingency planning for life preserving services (LPS) over the past week, DHBs are operating at minimum staffing levels and in some cases, unsafe staffing levels. This puts midwives at risk, and it puts the women and babies of New Zealand at risk. It is not acceptable!”
DHBs made withdrawal of the rolling strikes a condition of the union bringing the offer to members to vote on. They also insisted upon agreement that MERAS would not ballot for, or issue, any further strike notices in August.
“Our negotiating team would have considered this, had we been able to negotiate a proposed settlement that we could recommend to members. Sadly, that was not the case,” Ms Ovens says.
She says midwives are mindful that the cost of living is currently 3.3% as they have experienced big increases in housing costs, petrol and electricity costs, and food prices.
“The flat rate pay increase on offer not only fell short of CPI, but we were expected to accept a 27-month term with no backpay for the six months since the MECA [Multi-employer Collective Agreement with the 20 DHBs] expired.
“The latest offer would have been worse than the $1200 plus $1200 flat rate increases that our members already rejected, which was over two years and would have meant our members would have been $2400 better off this time next year. So of course we said ‘no’,” Ms Ovens says.
Caroline Conroy, MERAS co-leader (Midwifery), says the DHBs have not responded to the proposal by MERAS for a retention allowance to encourage midwives working in DHBs where there is a high proportion of vacancies – most DHBs in the country.
“This was discussed extensively at our last MECA negotiations and was rejected by the DHBs at the time. Immediately after we settled, some DHBs implemented retention allowances outside the MECA. Several more DHBs have either implemented retention allowances or they are currently working on proposals to do so,” Ms Conroy says.
“If the DHBs are going to offer these allowances, it is in everyone’s interests for the allowances to be part of the MECA, and negotiated nationally with MERAS. This would not only ensure consistency, but also that DHBs are not competing with each other for midwives, who are a scarce resource, rather than focussing on the challenges of retaining the midwifery workforce across Aotearoa.”
Ms Conroy says the union’s proposal was for an allowance based on agreed vacancy levels, with an additional allowance to encourage DHB-employed midwives to increase their FTE.
MERAS was offered interim payments for the pay equity claim, based on the work done so far to assess the extent of the undervaluation of midwives.
Ms Ovens says MERAS supports these payments in principle as a party to the Midwifery Pay Equity claim, which has taken much longer than expected to conclude.
“The pay equity negotiations will result in a significant increase in midwives’ salaries during the term of the MECA and so midwives might as well receive some of the funding that has been set aside by the Government, now, as opposed to waiting until we get a final pay equity settlement, which could be some way off,” she says.