No more cash to sweeten nurses' deal, govt says
By Pattrick Smellie
June 18 (BusinessDesk) - The government is open to a different structure to the proposed wage settlement for public sector nurses but there is no more money to throw at the problem, Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters and Health Minister David Clark said today.
Their comments came after members of the nurses' union, the New Zealand Nurses Organisation, voted strongly in favour of strike action in support of a catch-up pay claim, despite new Budget funding allowing a previous offer to be doubled to a total value of around half a billion dollars that delivers wage increases of up to 16 percent for some senior nurses.
Both Peters and Clark cited the desire of public sector teachers also to negotiate a substantial pay claim and spoke as two core public sector agencies also considered stoppages in support of pay claims.
"Our government is committed to ensuring our nurses and teachers and other frontline staff are paid a fair wage for a fair day’s work," said Peters. "That’s why our offers to date across the public service have been higher than that which was offered by National. The nurses’ half-billion dollar deal is the largest offer to that group of workers in over 14 years.
"However, we won’t be able to fix all the problems in just one pay round."
Peters chaired Cabinet today for the first time, but as deputy rather than acting Prime Minister. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is now permanently in Auckland until the birth of her first child, after which she will hand the reins to Peters on an acting basis.
Clark said he was "disappointed but I’m hopeful that both sides have said they want to look at whether strike action can be averted" while stressing "we have a fiscal limit and we’ve put out there the money we feel we can put out there".
"We’re open to looking at different ways of structuring the deal. If the nurses speak with their membership and find that they would like to prioritise this funding differently," Clark said, although the government would want to see increased staffing as well as improved pay "to ensure that our safety concerns are addressed".
"But if the nurses think there’s another way of structuring this, then we’re open to hearing it."
The deal proposed earlier this month by DHBs, which run public hospitals, went further than the recommendations of an independent panel appointed after pay talks had earlier broken down and before the announcement of a $250 million boost in available funding to meet nurses' wage claims.
"The majority of nurses under the proposed deal would be more than $10,000 (a year) better off if they were full-time nurses, within 18 months," said Clark. "It is the most generous offer in over a decade and the DHBs have put their best foot forward. Everyone agrees nurses should be paid more but it takes more than one pay round to address nine years of neglect," he said, referring to the previous government's less generous approach to public sector wages.
The NZNO was blindsided when DHBs publicly released detail of the offer on May 29 and claimed a breach of good faith, as such offers would normally be transmitted via the union to its membership.