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ASMS Advice on RMO National Strike(s)

ASMS Advice on RMO National Strike(s)

In the last national ASMS Direct I reported on the challenges facing ASMS on navigating our way through anticipated but not confirmed resident medical officer national strikes. This included providing some context and discussing the DHBs’ bargaining strategy. I concluded by advising that ASMS had formally written to the DHBs recommending that we meet in an endeavour to at least reach a national agreement on rates of remuneration in the event that strikes proceed. We suggested this be attempted before Christmas and advised that with or without any agreement we would be sending advice on or soon after 7 January.

Initially the DHBs were looking not to meet but had a change of heart when they became aware that the Resident Doctors’ Association was conducting a secret ballot for a 48-hour strike commencing at 7am Tuesday 15 January. Consequently, I and Senior Industrial Officer Lloyd Woods commenced negotiations with DHB representatives at the ASMS national office on 24 December. These resumed on 3 January (Industrial Officer Dianne Vogel and I represented ASMS on the second day). There were also telephone discussions and electronic communications between the parties.

In the intervening period between the two days of negotiations, after receiving a strong membership mandate from its members in the secret ballot, the RDA gave all the 20 DHBs formal notice of a national strike commencing at 7am Tuesday 15 January and concluding 7am Thursday 17 January. It is expected that the RDA will be holding strike ballots for each of a series of further strikes (two or three days duration) from the last week of January through to early March at least.

National agreement reached and ASMS Advice to members

These negotiations have led to a national agreement on both recommended national rates of remuneration for each of the DHBs where SMOs undertake additional work as a consequence the strike(s) and the circumstances when they apply, along with several other agreed ‘general requirements’. The agreement is signed by Rosemary Clements (Taranaki Chief Executive but in this context Chair of the DHBs national Employment Relations Strategy Group) and myself as ASMS Executive Director.

The agreement is located on the following link https://www.asms.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/All-DHBs-ASMS-National-Agreement-on-Rates-of-Remuneration-and-General-Requirements-During-RMO-Strikes-8-January-2020_171239.pdf

The Association has also published an ASMS Advice for members similar to that prepared for the 2016-17 strikes but refined and updated. Its contents include your obligations, your DHB’s obligations including life-preserving services planning, other duties, how your hospital and service should function during the strike (focussing on acute cases and emergencies as if it was a public holiday or weekend; this is a new section), and performance of striking RMO duties.

This ASMS Advice publication can be downloaded here https://www.asms.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/ASMS-Advice-to-Members-on-RMO-Strikes-January-March-2019_171236.2.pdf

If members require further advice or have any difficulties over either the implementation of the above national agreement or over the matters discussed in the second Advice publication please contact your relevant Industrial Officer responsible for your DHB or the national office at asms@asms.nz.

This is the best we have been able to do on a difficult issue in unprecedented circumstances and within a very tight time frame.

Looking ahead

Looking beyond this first tranche of actual and anticipated national RMO strike, there are two key months that will have a significant bearing on how this dispute might further unfold if a settlement is not reached:

1. March – from 1 March the DHBs will no longer be required to offer the expired RDA negotiated MECA to RMOs changing from one DHB to another (or those recruited from overseas). Instead they will be required to offer the SToNZ negotiated MECA (because at this time it would be the only settled MECA available) which contains many of the provisions the DHBs are seeking to remove from or diminish in the RDA MECA). But the RDA has around 3,000 more members than SToNZ in a total workforce that is less than 4,000.

2. June – the next period when many RMOs would normally change to another DHB.

In the absence of a satisfactory settlement between the DHBs and RDA this is a recipe for further intense industrial strife. Hopefully another cook book can be drawn upon.

Unfortunately this whole situation could have been avoided if the DHBs had accepted our initiative to address the unintended consequences of improving ‘safer hours’ for RMOs in a more measured and rigorous non-adversarial process rather than trying to force their position through a blunt MECA negotiating strategy. This was discussed more fully in the last national ASMS Direct.

RDA Mediation Initiative

The RDA has sought assistance over this dispute from the Mediation Service and a mediation hearing has been set for 9-10 January. The DHBs are required under the Employment Relations Act to attend. While this is a welcome initiative from the RDA and we hope it will facilitate a satisfactory outcome, given the polarised position of these MECA negotiations and the tense relationship between the parties, members should still work on the assumption that the strike next week will proceed.


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