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Little criticises nurses' decision to reject latest pay offer

Health Minister Andrew Little has criticised the Nurses Organisation's decision yesterday to reject the latest offer by district health boards, saying members had "rejected their own union's proposal".

Minister of Health Andrew Little (file photo). Source: Getty

“I want to be very clear – the proposal was put to Nurses Organisation members was one that they put to Government,” Little said today in a press conference.

“The Nurses Organisation members have rejected their own union’s proposal.”

Little acknowledged the nurses’ concerns around working on short-staffed shifts, working extra hours and high patient numbers has made the profession “more stressful than ever”.

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

The latest pay offer would have seen full-time employees covered by the collective agreement to receive an extra $13,000 over the next year alone, “with more to come when the pay equity is settled,” he said.

He said the two components making up the proposal nurses voted on adds up to a $5800 per year pay rise, and a lump sum payment of $7200, or $13,000 in the next year alone.

Little said while progressing the pay equity claim “is the top priority” and he has been “been driving the Government machine hard to get a pay equity offer on the table”, evaluating nursing 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,” he said.

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He said that the unions involved were “engaged at every step of the way”.

“This offer on pay equity will be worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year extra to the DHB payroll, and so we must get it right.”

Officials from multiple Government departments and agencies are currently working to complete the “technical work” to allow Cabinet to confirm a mandate “in just a few weeks’ time” for pay equity claim negotiations.

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

Little said the pay proposal “would have made a real difference to their bank accounts now and allowed for the delivery of pay equity, subject to negotiations, “later this year or by early next year”.

The rejection of the $408 million pay proposal means planned strikes for August 19 (8 hours) and September 9-10 (24 hours) will go ahead unless an acceptable offer is made.

Nurses have been fighting for a 17 per cent pay increase, and while the latest pay offer was welcome, advocates and NZNO members said it failed to address the chronic and systemic safe staffing issues that have long plagued the profession, causing retainment issues and severe burnout.

National health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti said today in a statement that nurses had already felt “undervalued” before Labour poured $500 million into “the health restructure and bureaucrats”.

“Labour has been more willing to pour half a billion dollars into the health restructure and bureaucrats, but add the Government’s wage freezes and mismanagement of labour shortages in the health and aged-care sectors into the mix and it’s no wonder they’re planning two more strikes,” he said.

“The Government must reassess its priorities and focus on primary care and health outcomes by backing our nurses, rather than on bureaucrats and management.”