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My mum is a midwife on strike

My mum is a midwife on strike

Midwives are asking DHBs to negotiate with them as a distinct profession.

For the first time in the history of Aotearoa/New Zealand, midwives are striking.

They are halfway through a two week strike to protest against the District Health Boards’ refusal to negotiate with midwives as a profession distinct from nursing, and to pay midwives what they are worth.

For two hours, twice a day, midwives are stopping all work that is not considered, by the DHBs, to be ‘life preserving.’ This means they will not answer the phone or welcome people into the ward, carry out routine equipment checks, do any cleaning, or make tea for women. They will provide labour and emergency care, support breastfeeding, perform urgent assessments, monitor the health of women and newborn babies, and administer medication.

The impact of the ‘life preserving’ staffing requirements is that almost all midwives continue to do almost all of their normal work during the strike hours. So this is a profession with some of the weightiest bargaining power you could imagine, but, precisely because of both the vital importance of their work and the fact that they are already so short-staffed (which is, of course, partly why the strike is happening in the first place), midwives are barely able to strike at all, and only in a way that causes very little trouble.

Picket lines outside our hospitals are hard to spot. Auckland Hospital recently boasted a total of 5 midwives picketing — everyone else had to keep working. As Anna Fielder explains in this Scoop piece, it’s a classic, tragic, catch-22.

My mum is a registered midwife. She is a highly-trained specialist in the provision of pregnancy, labour/birth, and postnatal care to people having babies. Her midwifery qualification – which includes a four-year bachelor’s degree in midwifery, a fifth year of post graduate mentored practice and annual upskilling – means that she can practise in any setting, including the home, the community, hospitals or in any other maternity service.

My mum cannot work as a nurse.

I have a friend who is a registered nurse. She is registered by the Nursing Council of New Zealand. She has a degree in nursing. Her nursing qualification, a 3-year degree, covers a broad range of healthcare and means that she can work in General Practice clinics, hospitals, hospice and other community settings.

This friend sometimes works in a maternity ward, alongside midwives. In the maternity ward there are specialised tasks that she is not qualified to do without additional training and qualifications, such as prescribing medicines. She also cannot provide labour or birthing care or assess the wellbeing of pregnant people and their unborn babies in an antenatal clinic. She cannot provide pregnancy, labour and birth, or postnatal care to anyone in the community.

My friend is an excellent nurse and enjoys working with midwives, but she is not a midwife.

Midwives are registered by the Midwifery Council of New Zealand which was established in 2003 as a registration body separate from the Nursing Council. This legal separation recognises the fundamental differences between the professions of Nursing and Midwifery – differences in their training and differences in the work that they do.

The vital work of both midwives and nurses is underpaid and undervalued. Nurses have recently negotiated a somewhat better deal with the District Health Boards. Midwives want the opportunity to negotiate their own pay and work conditions, on their own merit, rather than be expected, and pressured, to take whatever deal the nursing profession has negotiated before them.


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