Has the time come for nurses to gain a mega MECA?

February 8, 2022

A universal collective agreement for all nurses across all sectors – is it possible?

Joel Maxwell
Joel Maxwell

Perhaps the time has come for a mega MECA.

NZNO kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku raised the idea of a universal multi-employer collective agreement (MECA) for nurses as part of a submission by Te Rūnanga to the select committee examining proposed legislation underpinning health reforms.

In particular, she reminded MPs of the pay gap between nurses doing exactly the same work across different health sectors.

For instance, she said, nurses in Māori and iwi-provider services were “significantly under-recognised and underpaid”. Māori nurses often had to work several jobs just to make ends meet.

The changes in the health reforms will be huge: one single agency replacing all 20 district health boards (DHBs). A Māori Health Authority with the money to buy services.

But it appears the changes in the legislation would not achieve equal pay.

A universal MECA was necessary now, Nuku said, to make sure all nurses gained the benefits of the changes – not just DHB nurses.

She asked MPs on the committee to consider the pay of nurses working in the likes of aged care, Māori health, and prisons.

The best time for equality between nurses in and out of DHBs was yesterday. The second best time is today.

All these nurses faced the same regulatory demands under the New Zealand Nursing Council; and in the age of COVID-19 they did the same vital work. So why shouldn’t there be equal pay, resources and conditions too?

I know there could be challenges to creating the framework for a universal MECA, but with law changes underway for health reforms, now would be the perfect time to face and overcome them.

It is galling that some nurses get paid less than others while doing exactly the same work. It is galling that the aged-care sector – facing a boom in Boomers – is in dire straits when it comes to staffing levels. It is frightening that Aotearoa faces the arrival of Omicron with nursing shortages across the nation.

Arguably the most important work in the coming weeks will be done in communities, away from hospitals, as the Government seeks to create a buffer for emergency departments and ICUs.

The best time for equality between nurses in and out of DHBs was yesterday. The second best time is today.

A mega MECA could be the way to achieving equality tomorrow.