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Banning strikes won’t make problems disappear

New Zealand Nurses Organisation
Media Release
17 July 2008

Banning strikes won’t make problems disappear

Banning health professionals’ right to strike will not make employment relationship problems disappear, according to NZNO chief executive, Geoff Annals.

Responding to calls to ban health professionals’ right to strike, Annals said such a right was an essential part of a balanced and functioning employment relations environment. Banning the right to strike would upset the balance of the employer/employee relationship and the long-term impact on health care quality and safety would be be much more serious than the impact of rare strike action.

“It is not easy for nurses to strike and they don’t strike readily. It always a last resort, after every other avenue has been explored. In such a situation, strike action may be the only way to force an obstinate employer to face up to a critical issue, typically one that is already affecting patient safety, Geoff Annals said. “Sometimes it is only by strike action that nurses have been able to get an employer to address fundamental workforce issues. Fundamental workforce issues are as much about professional nursing practice as employment relations.”

Geoff Annals believes the focus should be on why strikes happen and what can be done to avoid them, rather than on banning them. “Strikes are far less likely to arise in an industrial relations environment based on fairness and mutual concern for patient and community well-being. This is the environment that prevails between most health sector unions and most employers in the district health board sector, and strikes by nurses are rare in this sector,”Annals said.

He urged health unions, DHBs and the Ministry of Health to work more closely together to ensure employment relationships within the public sector are not allowed to deteriorate to the point where some groups of health professionals feel strike action is their only choice.

“But we should all beware of calls to scrap the right to strike. Precipitate action based on incomplete information and assumed cause is very risky, whether in clinical practice or public policy; indeed it can often be downright dangerous,” Geoff Annals said.

ENDS

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