Health workers to strike over pay

More than 1400 Canterbury health workers will join 11,000 others nationwide next month and walk off the job in strike action that threatens to disrupt surgery and dental clinics.

In what the Public Service Association (PSA) claims would be the sector's biggest industrial action in decades, health workers have voted in favour of strike action in response to an impasse on pay talks with district health boards (DHBs).

DHBs have proposed a 1.5 per cent pay increase over two years, which was rejected by the PSA.

The strike includes mental and public health nurses, physiotherapists, anaesthetic technicians, dental therapists and administrative staff.

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."

PSA national secretary Richard Wagstaff said the range of workers involved meant the strike would cause huge disruptions, leading to appointment and surgery cancellations.

If mediation this month failed, the first work-to-rule day was planned for August 25, which would escalate to partial stopwork days in September.

"The stakes are pretty high," he said.

The offers made by the DHBs were insulting, he said, leaving workers to bear the brunt of the Government's chronic under-funding of the health sector.

In a statement, DHBs said they were disappointed the PSA had sought a mandate for industrial action and accused the union of failing to recognise the tight financial pressures faced by all DHBs.

Graham Dyer, chief executive of Hutt and Wairarapa DHBs and chairman of a combined DHB employment relations strategy group, said it was still too early to judge the impact of the possible strike but if it went ahead, it would be the biggest industrial action in the sector in years.

"We have got plans that we can pull out and dust off, but I am hoping it won't get to that stage," he said.

"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 which had been accepted by some other groups, including clinical psychologists," Dyer said.

Dyer said he would have been more confident of resolving the impasse without strikes if an election was not looming in the background. "The co-ordinated timing of the action is clearly part of some other agenda," he said.

The PSA rejected suggestions the move was politically motivated.

The Press