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Health Minister Andrew Little Responds To The Nurses’ Organisation's Rejection Of The Latest Pay Offer

I was advised last night that the result of the ballot of Tōpūtanga Tapuhi Kaitiaki o Aotearoa New Zealand Nurses Organisation members have rejected the latest proposal to settle their collective agreement.

Let me be clear: the proposal was one they put to the Government. The Nurses Organisation rejected their own proposal.

This morning I want to confirm the details of the proposal and reaffirm the Government’s commitments to nurses - and to all New Zealanders who are dependent on their care - to improve conditions for nurses.

Above all else I want to say this: I have heard what nurses say about their working lives.

They have told me how the combination of working on short-staffed shifts, extra hours and constantly having to deal with the high numbers of patients (especially in emergency departments) has made their job more stressful than ever.

On top of this, commitments on safe staffing and pay equity made between nurses and District Health Boards (DHBs) three years ago have yet to be fully honoured.

The Government acknowledges the distress and despair these circumstances are causing, and we are committed to fixing it.

The latest pay offer puts an extra $13,000 over the next year alone in the pockets of every full-time employee covered by the collective agreement - with more to come when the pay-equity claim is settled.

The pay component of the offer is in two parts.

The first part of the proposal nurses voted on was to lift base pay-rates by $1800 a year - plus a lump-sum payment of $1200. These amounts are within the current public sector guidelines.

The second part was advance on the settlement of the pay-equity claim, a $4000-a-year pay rise and a lump-sum payment of $6000.

Together, that adds up to a $5800-a-year pay rise and a lump-sum payment of $7200 - altogether, $13,000 over the next year.

The lump sums would have been paid as soon as practicable following ratification.

As I said, the most significant component of the proposal just voted on was the advance on the pay equity settlement. The reality is progressing the pay equity claim is the top priority.

In recent months, I have been driving the government machine hard to get a pay-equity offer on the table.

The process of evaluating nurses’ jobs and finding comparable jobs to benchmark them to is complicated. It has taken longer than either the DHBs or the Nurses Organisation expected when they started the job three years ago.

The Nurses Organisation, along with other unions, has been engaged at every step of the way so far.

This offer on pay equity will be worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year and we must get it right.

I can tell you that officials from a number of government departments and agencies are fully committed to completing the technical work so that Cabinet can confirm a mandate in a few weeks for negotiations to begin.

There is nothing – and I need to make this crystal clear – nothing I can do to speed up the process even more.

The $408 million pay proposal that nurses rejected would have make a real difference to their bank accounts now, and – subject to negotiations – we should deliver true pay equity later this year or by early next year.

The Nurses Organisation acknowledges the latest pay offer is “promising” and says members are now mainly concerned about safe staffing levels.

The Government and DHBs committed to safe staffing levels through CCDM (Care Capacity Demand Management) three years ago. Implementation was due for completion across all DHBs by 30 June this year. This has not happened, and I acknowledge that.

The Nurses Organisation has described the clause in the offer relating to safe staffing “vague”. This is surprising, given it was developed by their own negotiating team.

The safe-staffing clause includes:

- A Ministerial investigation into why the safe-staffing agreement reached in 2008 has been fully implemented at only 10 of the 20 district health boards.

- $5 million to make sure CCDM is rolled out at the other 10 DHBs. As I said earlier, we have already funded an extra 3000 nurse positions, and need to make sure CCDM is fully in place in every DHB.

- Thirdly, a joint recruitment campaign between the Ministry of Health and the Nurses Organisation to fill the 1450 nurse vacancies across the country.

- A commitment to ensuring Variable Response Management is considered as part of CCDM. That meanshaving additional nurses on shift available for immediate deployment when unforeseen workload pressures arise.

The Nurses Organisation has expressed concern about accountability where the employer falls short in meeting staffing requirements. I make three points about this:

- Firstly, the commitments on CCDM are already enforceable commitments, and therefore there is an accountability mechanism for it. The Nurses Organisation has so far taken no enforcement or compliance action in relation to these commitments;

- Secondly, the original proposal from the Nurses Organisation on this point would have entitled them to refer every incidence of a short-staffed shift to the Employment Relations Authority or the Employment Court. That is a process that would take months each time; it wouldn’t fix the problem on that shift; and it would be impractical;

- Thirdly, the Nurses Organisation agreed to an alternative which was to work on a practical way of obtaining accountability that was timely and meaningful.

The Nurses Organisation says strikes planned for the 19th of August and the 9th and 10th of September will now go ahead unless an “acceptable” offer is made.

These strikes would be hugely disruptive to public health services, and to the people who need them.

The health system is already under pressure from a global pandemic and the winter ‘flu season.

The Government believes the proposal to settle the collective agreement addresses all the issues Nurses Organisation has raised in negotiations and was realistic and practical - especially when you consider we are just weeks away from making an offer on pay equity worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

To nurses I say I remain committed to seeing you are paid what you deserve and have safe conditions to work in – including properly staffing the health system.

The focus now, however, must be on settling the pay-equity claim, and that is where the Government’s attention will now be.

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