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Nurses to strike on August 19 after latest pay offer rejected

Nurses are once again preparing to walk off the job with a strike noticed issued for August 19, after the latest pay offer was rejected last week. 

A previous nurses' strike. Source: 1 NEWS

The country-wide strike will see nurses walk off the job from 11am to 7pm later this month. Those who work in MIQ and at the border will be exempt, and services to preserve life will also be provided. 

Lead advocate David Wait said the rejected pay offer failed "to set out clearly how safe staffing will be addressed and how the DHBs will be held accountable for it". 

"Nurses, midwives, health care assistants and kaimahi hauora have been working under horrific and unsafe staffing conditions for a long time, made much worse by the pandemic and RSV, and they are genuinely worried about the future of nursing in Aotearoa," Wait said. 

He said the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) wanted to return to the negotiation table to avoid strikes, but said the DHB was unable to meet until this Thursday. 

District Health Boards have gone to the Employment Court about the strike notice "to help resolve a disagreement about ensuring emergency cover during strike action by nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants".

DHB spokesperson Dale Oliff said they were "worried the NZNO approach will put the safety of patients and other staff at risk". 

"During the strikes in June, and those threatened in July, NZNO refused to guarantee making the agreed number of skilled union members available, even though it had signed agreements confirming the support was needed.  All it would do was to use its 'best endeavours'."

He said the DHB respected the members' right to strike and it would reduce demand as much as possible by deferring non-acute and elective procedures.

"Doctors, allied health teams and nursing staff who are not NZNO members will come to work as normal, but we will still need the skills and services of some NZNO members."

Previous strike notices were called off in July, after the union took an improved pay offer to its members from negotiations with DHBs. 

Health Minister Andrew Little described it at the time as a "positive move towards settling district health board nurses’ pay claims". 

Last Thursday, it was revealed that offer was not enough, with Wait saying ambiguity over safe staffing levels was a major factor in the rejected offer. 

Little criticised the decision, saying members had "rejected their own union's proposal".

Little acknowledged nurses' concerns around working on short-staffed shifts, working extra hours and that a 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.

Wait previously said strikes planned for August 19 (8 hours) and September 9-10 (24 hours) would go ahead unless an acceptable offer is made.

Last week, DHB spokesperson Dale Oliff said the boards were surprised a package of more than $400 million had been rejected.

He said they would begin considering their next steps to prevent the strikes going ahead.