Planned health strike 'about safety'

CATE BROUGHTON
Last updated 05:00 11/08/2014

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Public Service Association health workers have voted to strike after being offered a 0.7 per cent increase by district health boards. CATE BROUGHTON spoke to PSA member and mental health administrator Nancy NcShane about the strike action.

Nancy McShane has worked at a Canterbury District Health Board mental health facility for five years and is angered by what she sees on the job.

Demands on staff are escalating but the resourcing and funding to help them cope is inadequate, she said. "We're very short of male nurses and that puts them and female nurses in positions where they are unsafe on the ward much of the time."

In her role supporting a team of eight medical staff, McShane said she saw the impact on frontline staff.

Nurses regularly reported feeling disillusioned and stressed, she said.

"I see people who have been punched and kicked and they have to have time off for stress."

While "safety issues" were to be expected in mental health, the situation was not acceptable, she said.

"I don't think the environment they are working in at the moment is safe and I think most of them would tend to agree."

She felt strongly that the proposed action was the right thing to do.

"It is a very serious step for people to take and they don't take it lightly. I think the public need to hear that and understand we are not doing this lightly, we are doing it because we are concerned about how the public is ultimately going to be impacted."

The strike action was about the future of the health system in New Zealand, McShane said. "Most staff are starting to realise this isn't just about a pay increase, it's about where the health sector in this country is heading."

Medical administrators were poorly paid, despite considerable skill and work in a challenging environment, she said.

Most medical administrators earned about $18-$20 an hour.

PSA member mental health nurses earned about the same, a PSA spokesman said.

Claims the industrial action was a cynical election stunt by the PSA were rejected by McShane. "I've become a delegate and become increasingly involved because I believe they have the highest interests of ordinary working New Zealanders."

A statement from the DHBs accused the union of failing to recognise tight financial pressures faced by all DHBs.

McShane said this smacked of hypocrisy. "If we have to be realistic and accept a 0.7 per cent increase why do the politicians not have to accept that as well?"

Canterbury DHB chief executive David Meates said the CDHB was committed to the mediation process with a view to negotiating a settlement with the PSA.

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"The DHB has an absolute commitment to providing safe working environments being a daily consideration [CDHB has a very good health and safety profile] and this important issue should not be linked to pay negotiations."

- The Press

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