DHB staff planning to go on strike

Nearly 12,000 District Health Board workers have voted to strike in the lead-up to the election, the Public Service Association says.

Possibly the largest industrial action by health workers in New Zealand in a decade, it will include two short strikes on September 2 and September 10, a 10-day ban on overtime and more than two weeks of work to rule.

All the industrial action is due to finish just over a week before the September 20 general election.

PSA national secretary Richard Wagstaff said the workers had voted for the action after they were offered a pay increase of 0.7 per cent "and no movement on other issues, including training and professional development".

Staff at every DHB would be involved in the action, including public and mental health nurses, physiotherapists, anaesthetic technicians and dental therapists.

"The strength of these results, with an average 87.1 per cent in favour of industrial action, shows the seriousness of the funding crisis in the health sector," Wagstaff said, adding that the proposed pay increase was "insulting".

"The DHBs have told us that the Government has indicated there will be even less money on the table next year - a continuation of systemic underfunding of the health system."

The DHBs said they were disappointed the PSA had sought a mandate for industrial action.

Graham Dyer, chief executive of Hutt and Wairarapa DHBs and chairman of a combined DHB employment relations strategy group, said the union was not recognising the tight fiscal environment that DHBs were in.

"There remains severe pressure on the economic delivery of world-class health services for all New Zealanders."

According to Dyer, bargaining for six collective agreements had been going on for up to 12 months, with groups such as nurses and other staff being offered pay-increase settlements that had been accepted by other groups, including clinical psychologists.

"The co-ordinated timing of the action is clearly part of some other agenda" Dyer said.

But Wagstaff denied the timing of the industrial action was linked to the election.

"We've been bargaining now for a very long time ... When you represent 60,000 people like the PSA does, it's pretty hard to avoid not bargaining near the election, because there's bargaining going on constantly."

He said the PSA had recently reached a settlement for a 2 per cent pay increase for Department of Corrections workers.

"If we got an offer anywhere near that level, I believe we'd put it to members and probably get a settlement," Wagstaff said. 

The Southland Times