MidCentral midwives strike for fair pay and safe staffing

Midwives strike for better working conditions and staffing levels. Union co-leader Caroline Conroy, wearing a red scarf, supports the strike.
DAVID UNWIN/Stuff
Midwives strike for better working conditions and staffing levels. Union co-leader Caroline Conroy, wearing a red scarf, supports the strike.

What do midwives want? Fair pay and safe staffing. When do they want it? Now.

That's the message dozens of midwives and their supporters shouted as they marched in front of Palmerston North Hospital with their banners waving on Wednesday morning.

Midwives for MidCentral District Heath Board, which includes Palmerston North Hospital, Horowhenua Health Centre and Te Papaioea Birthing Centre, joined national strike action seeking better conditions, culture and remuneration.

This has occurred as the Midwifery Employee Representation and Advisory Service (MERAS) union works to negotiate a new collective employment agreement.

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Midwives pass Palmerston North Hospital as they strike against poor pay and poor conditions.
DAVID UNWIN/Stuff
Midwives pass Palmerston North Hospital as they strike against poor pay and poor conditions.

Palmerston North representatives Charlotte Godbaz and Renaye Judd said midwives were burned out after years of sub-standard safety conditions and a lack of staff, which had only become worse as the hospital ignored pleas for help.

Wednesday’s MidCentral strike was set to last eight hours from 11am to 7pm, with cover organised to ensure the maternity unity could still run during the labour withdrawal.

The union must supply life preserving services during the strike.

Godbaz said, ironically, the staff they had on to meet this criteria was more than the DHB would otherwise have rostered for the day.

Judd said she worked 12-hour shifts overnight and was often stressed by the lack of staffing taking over from her the next day.

“The roster gaps are quite stressful and trying to find people to fill those gaps is becoming harder. We try or best to pick up extras, but you just feel unsafe.”

Motorists toot in support for midwives fighting for their voice, on the corner of Ruahine St and Tremaine Ave.
DAVID UNWIN/Stuff
Motorists toot in support for midwives fighting for their voice, on the corner of Ruahine St and Tremaine Ave.

“We need to be valued and appreciated, so part of that is through the employment agreement and part of that is through having the right number of staff.”

To properly staff the hospital and feel valued, MERAS co-leader Caroline Conroy said the there needed to be 31 full-time midwives, a starting salary of $59,000 and a voice for midwives at the table during decision-making.

There were 15 full-time midwives employed by the hospital following an exodus of seven in January due to the current conditions, Godbaz said.

Plans are afoot to fully re-open Te Papaioea birthing centre by May.
DAVID UNWIN/Stuff
Plans are afoot to fully re-open Te Papaioea birthing centre by May.

Executive director of nursing and midwifery Celina Eves said the DHB’s top priority was to ensure the safety of women and their babies during the strike.

“We know this is a stressful time for expectant mothers and their whānau. If your birthing plan includes coming to one of our facilities, then please know that we are here for you.”

The health board’s chief executive Kathryn Cook said the DHB respected the right to strike and appreciated the patience and understanding of the community and wider staff members.