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Telehealth Workers Battle On For Fair Wages, Respect

About 300 workers employed at Whakarongorau Aotearoa Telehealth members continue with their struggle for fair wages and respect from their employer. The workers are members of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation Tōpūtanga Tapuhi Kaitiaki o Aotearoa (NZNO) and the Public Service Association Te Pūkenga Here Tikanga Mahi (PSA).

Despite mediation following their first strike on 16 September, Sunday will see yet another round of industrial action following a ratification ballot this week where members voted overwhelmingly to reject the latest offer from Whakarongorau and down tools.

The strike for 24 hours starts from 5pm on Sunday 8 October to 5pm Monday 9 October.

NZNO delegate Bruce Tomlinson said the mediation ordered by the Employment Court during Whakarongorau’s attempt to interdict the first strike had made little difference.

"We entered the mediation in good faith with the hope that the employer would make a decent wage offer, and while there were some good improvements on offer for some workers, this ultimately did not materialise.

"This strike is really about the workers getting paid a fair wage. Quite frankly we’re asking for a cost-of-living increase, but their new offer is not even close to that."

PSA delegate Jayne McQuarrie.said: "If workers can’t meet their own financial, physical, and mental health needs, how can they come to work each day ready to support the needs of our country?"

Tomlinson said better wages would help with retention of staff as the situation at Whakarongorau was reaching a crisis point with workers quitting in droves for better paying jobs.

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"As an example, since the last strike in mid-September five people from the mental health team alone had resigned their positions - all for more money elsewhere.

"How do you expect to continue to run these services when our members are leaving for higher pay?"

He said Whakarongorau’s admission that it did show a surplus of about $7m in 2021/22 but failed to invest in staff retention or recruitment only highlighted the issue which led to this impasse and subsequently two strikes.

"It only exposes where employees’ wellbeing sits on Whakarongarau’s list of priorities."

Although the numbers going on strike might seem smaller, the impact was much wider as Whakarongorau workers provide immediate support to everyday people all across the country through services like Healthline, 1737 Need to Talk?, Ambulance Secondary Triage, National Poisons Centre, GP After Hours, Earlier Mental Health Response, Shine Domestic Abuse Helpline, Diver Emergency Service Hotline, NZ Defence Force Mental Health Line among many others.

"We are essentially the frontline of the frontline staff. Our members are passionate about their work and want to keep being the voice on the end of the line 24 hours a day, seven days a week," McQuarrie said.

NZNO and PSA remain open to further negotiations. The strikes take place near the Whakarongorau offices in Auckland (25 College Hill, Freeman’s Bay), Wellington (36 Customhouse Quay) and Christchurch (395 Madras Street).

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