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Government ready to table historic pay-equity offer

Hon Andrew Little

Minister of Health

Government ready to table historic pay-equity offer for nurses

Speech notes from this morning’s announcement

Today I am announcing Cabinet’s decisions on the pay-equity claim for nurses employed by DHBs.

It is important to clarify there have been two separate processes under way to improve on nurses’ pay.

The first is the pay equity process which started in 2018 when the Nurses’ Organisation, the District Health Boards and the Government agreed as part of the pay settlement at that time to address a longstanding pay equity claim.

Around the same time, the PSA also reached agreement and the pay equity claims of both unions have proceeded together.

Those agreements included a process involving close collaboration between the unions, the DHBs and other government agencies.

Normal collective bargaining is not equipped for dealing with historical pay equity issues, which is why the Government is focussing on pay-equity.

The pay-equity process agreed between the unions and the DHBs involves a number of steps – or milestones, as they are referred to in the agreement.

The first four milestones were:

- confirming whether there is sex-based undervaluation of nurses

- identifying comparators – that is, jobs or occupations with comparable skills and responsibilities

- evaluating those skills, responsibilities and work conditions

- quantifying the equity gap.

This is not a straight forward process. It has proven to be more complicated than originally thought and so has taken longer than expected. No one is at fault. It is the way it is.

We are now at milestone five of the pay equity process. This milestone entails negotiation over the pay equity claim.

The second process for nurses’ pay is the conventional renewal of the applicable collective agreements.

Bargaining for renewal of collective agreements started last year. These negotiations generally focus on a cost of living adjustment for pay rates as well as addressing other conditions in the collective agreement.

It is true that offers exchanged between the parties in recent months have included an element related to pay equity – effectively an advance on an agreement in the future.

Those offers have recognised that the time taken to settle the pay equity claim is way longer than anyone thought it would be. But those offers have not been about negotiating the pay equity claim itself.

No agreement has been reached on renewal of the Nurses Organisation collective agreement. I understand the PSA is taking an offer to their members for consideration.

Coming to Cabinet’s decisions yesterday, in preparation for milestone five, which is negotiation of the pay equity claim, Cabinet has approved two things:

· the mandate under which DHBs will now negotiate

· funding to meet the cost of the resulting agreement.

I have said before it is my expectation that the pay equity claim once agreed will add hundreds of millions of dollars a year to the current pay roll for nurses. This is still my expectation.

This morning I have written to the unions, the DHBs and the Ministry of Health and invited them to commence negotiations as soon as possible.

This has been long-awaited and is likely to be the most significant pay-equity settlement this country has ever seen.

And it is not before time. New Zealand passed the Equal Pay Act in 1972 and still, in many occupations, women earn less than men.

We know that nurses are underpaid, and that is why we are committed to pay equity.

Our resolve to reach a satisfactory agreement over pay equity for nurses remains undiminished.

To nurses I say I am aware achieving fair pay is not the only issue you are concerned about.

Many of you are facing challenging conditions at work because of short-staffed shifts and the uneven roll-out of Care Capacity Demand Management (or CCDM) agreement in the safe staffing accord.

On this question I can confirm the following:

I have established a Nursing Advisory Group which will have the task of reviewing the implementation of CCDM and the underlying methodology.

The four members of the group, supported by an independent secretariat, will look at where CCDM is operating successfully and where implementation is not complete.

The group will hear from nurses about what can be done better to ensure safe-staffing levels.

It will look at effectiveness – including staff satisfaction and patient outcomes – and whether CCDM is fit for purpose.

I will confirm the make-up of the group in the days to come.

The group will report to me in three months’ time.

Recognising pay equity and finding solutions to the current staffing problems are top priorities right now.

We are committed to these issues.

There is only one way forward on the pay-equity claim, and that is to commence negotiations as soon as possible.

I urge the parties to do so.

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