Crunch point coming

February 1, 2021

It’s getting to crunch point in the NZNO/district health board multi-employer collective agreement negotiations.

David Wait
Delegates from different DHBs and practice areas ‘a real asset’ – David Wait

The next two days of bargaining for the NZNO/district health board multi-employer collective agreement (DHB MECA), scheduled for February 16 and 17, are likely to draw the negotiations to a head.

After 15 days of negotiations, which began in June last year, we have reached agreement on a number of issues which have minimal financial cost to DHBs. The areas of agreement include improvements in rostering, particularly for those coming off night shift, to ensure they have adequate rest, and improvements to flexible working arrangements for pregnant employees and for those aged over 60.

It’s important to point out that while these areas have been agreed in principle, any offer by the DHBs is not finalised until they make a complete offer on all matters.

Three core claims

But we remain poles apart on our three core claims: pay, safe staffing and improved sick leave.

  • The value of the package the DHB team is operating within is less than a two per cent increase in total, including any pay increase. And the DHB team is holding firm to its position of a flat rate increase on all steps, except for those members earning more than $100,000, who would receive no increase. This divisive move on the part of the DHBs fails to recognise those nurses working in advanced practice roles, while also failing to recognise the value of health-care assistants (HCAs). The DHB position would see HCAs on step 1 of their pay scale earning just the minimum wage.
  • Members’ staffing claim has three components. We are seeking a commitment from DHBs to staff at safe levels, as determined by methodology from the core data set of care capacity demand management. Members also want DHBs to publicly report on staffing levels, with information available at the ward/unit level for each shift on the day, and implementation of penalty payments to members when DHBs staff below these levels. This is a mechanism to encourage DHBs to staff safely and to provide a modest recognition of the stress and strain members endure when working in environments that do not have enough staff for the work that needs to be done.
  • The third core claim is to increase sick leave from 10 to 15 days. The rationale for this claim is that members need to be able to take time off when they, or a family member, are sick. And, because they are constantly working with sick people, members are more at risk of contracting an illness or exposing patients to risk, if members are unable to take needed sick leave. And, in the COVID-19 environment, everybody is being exhorted to stay home if they are unwell.

We have a strong sense of unity and of purpose, both of which will be necessary to achieve a settlement members will accept.

Despite the lack of movement from the DHB team on these three core claims, there are some positives emerging from the bargaining process. Having used the Ross Wilson review of the previous MECA bargaining as a starting point, we have run an inclusive, member-focused campaign and created a solid base for communication, particularly on two closed Facebook groups. These are focused on delegates and provide a place for discussion with and among members. We have a strong sense of unity and of purpose, both of which will be necessary to achieve a settlement members will accept.

In particular, I would like to thank and congratulate the 12 delegates on the bargaining team. Having a larger team means the delegates bring so much experience from different DHBs and from so many different practice areas, which is a real asset. We have formed a strong team.

Training sessions for delegates

Starting late last year and continuing, NZNO organisers are running training sessions for delegates on the ratification process and how delegates can play a part in that. Any ratification vote will be online. Delegates and organisers have a great deal of flexibility when setting up and running meetings, which can range from small ward/unit-based meetings to larger, more formal meetings. Because the vote is online, members won’t have to attend a meeting in order to vote, although that is the best way to decide collectively on our course of action.

Organisers are also running meetings for delegates on contingency planning, if we find ourselves facing some form of industrial action. While we want to avoid the disruption of any industrial action, it is prudent to prepare for such an eventuality.

A full update will be sent to members following the negotiations this month and members can take part in further discussion on the closed Facebook group: NZNODHBMECA2020.