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Primary Health Care Strike Ballot Underway

More than 3400 Primary Health Care nurses and medical receptionists/administrators across more than 500 practices and accident and medical centres will commence a ballot for strike action today.

The ballot will run until Wednesday 12 August and is for a complete withdrawal of labour for eight hours on 3 September.

New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) Industrial Advisor Chris Wilson says this has never happened before in these primary health care workplaces and is a clear indication of the frustration workers feel after nine months of fruitless negotiations.

Ms Wilson said an experienced nurse covered by the Primary Health Care multi-employer collective agreement (PHC MECA) is currently paid 10.6 percent less than their DHB colleague with the same qualifications, skills and experience.

"This is completely unjust and undervalues the amazing work these nurses do in providing expert care in the community - demonstrated so clearly in the COVID-19 response."

She also said there are steps on the medical receptionist/admin scale that do not even meet the living wage.

But Ms Wilson said this was not your usual union versus employer dispute.

"Employers have been very clear they also want pay parity with DHBs so they can keep their staff and continue delivery of a quality primary health care service. However their funding from Government is completely inadequate.

"This is despite approaches to ex-Health Minister David Clark, the Ministry of Health and DHB officials by both NZNO and employer advocates the NZ Medical Association and Green Cross Health.

"Resolving this really comes down to political will, and our members’ patience has just about run out. Budget 2020 put an extra $3.92 billion into DHBs over the next four years, whereas pay parity for PHC nurses would cost just $15 million."

Ms Wilson said that NZNO members see new funding being allocated elsewhere every day, and that they are wondering what has to happen for Government to appropriately value the Primary Health Care sector as the front door of our health service.

"They are very disappointed and angry that they have been forced into considering strike action."

Three weeks ago NZNO wrote to Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield indicating it would truly be a lost opportunity if this pay disparity was not urgently addressed and seeking support for the necessary additional funding to enable the PHC MECA to be settled as soon as possible without further frustration, discontent and disruption.

This week NZNO will contact the relevant Ministers and the Prime Minister to make the case again for improved Government funding.

"Common sense needs to prevail so we can avoid the need for any strike action," Ms Wilson said.

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