Health workers vote for mass strike

JOELLE DALLY AND HAMISH RUTHERFORD
Last updated 15:17 04/08/2014

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Twelve thousand health workers have voted to strike in what the PSA union says will be the sector's biggest industrial action in a decade.

The health workers involved included mental and public health nurses, physiotherapists, anaesthetic technicians, dental therapists, and administrative staff among others, the PSA said.

The strike action was sparked after workers were offered a 0.7 per cent pay increase, the union said.

In Canterbury, 1439 PSA members would strike, including 22 mental health nurses.

PSA spokesman Asher Goldman said mental health workers, in particular, were exposed to a high rate of violence and staff were "insulted" by the pay offer.

"Anything happening nationally is happening at an increased level in Christchurch and Canterbury," he said.

"We're hoping they will come back with an improved offer."

The strike would have a "huge impact", but would be done in a way that ensured no patients were placed at undue risk. 

The strike would run from August 25 to September 10, and include:

- a ban on overtime from September 1-10, including on-call and taking phone calls after hours

- a two-hour strike for each eight-hour shift on September 2

- A three-hour strike for each eight-hour shift on September 10.

PSA National Secretary Richard Wagstaff said the vote for strike action showed the seriousness of the funding crisis in the health sector.

"DHB staff work hard to keep New Zealanders healthy, but their own wellbeing is put under increasing strain by these insulting offers."

The Ministry of Health could not immediately be reached for comment.

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 are in.

"This sector has been largely insulated from the impacts of the global financial crisis, and has continued to have growth in both wages and numbers of employees. Subsequently the expectations should be tempered as the recovery kicks in."

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

According to Dyer's statement, bargaining for six collective agreements had been ongoing for up to 12 months, with groups such as nurses and other staff being offered pay increase settlements which 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. 

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