“I had two feelings, one was delight, and the second one was ‘yeah, but . . . what am I going to lose’,” Hawkes Bay registered nurse (RN) Gail Hussey said.
A lack of trust in Te Whatu Ora would remain as a result of previous broken promises to ensure pay equity and safe staffing, Hussey said.
“At every negotiation for many years, we’ve said ‘we’re being undervalued’ and they’ve gone ‘yeah, we really respect and value our workforce’, but they don’t put anything into action.”
On Monday, Te Whatu Ora applied to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) for interim orders to increase pay to rates it had offered in late 2021.
Two days later, ERA member Helen Doyle made the orders and said NZNO’s case about the correct pay equity rates would continue to be heard.
The increased interim rates and a lump-sum payment of $3000 will be backdated to March 7, 2022.
Te Whatu Ora chief executive Fepulea’i Margie Apa said it would aim to make the payments “early in the first quarter of 2023”.
“Paying out these rates would address a legitimate claim for a key part of the health workforce that has been undervalued for too long.”
Te Whatu Ora’s offer was not ratified by Tōpūtanga Tupuhi Kaitiaki o Aotearoa New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO), as the rates failed to meet pay equity requirements and back pay to December 2019 was not included.
Member reactions to interim pay equity uplift
“Never look a gift horse in the mouth . . . But watch it very closely in case it bites!! [Te Whatu Ora] could have done this way earlier – it’s election year bribery, desperation and a failure to acknowledge they were wrong.” Tracy Chisholm, RN Waikato Hospital emergency department
“Members are frustrated that our employer is now playing [the] hero after ‘punishing us’ for a year, but most just need the increase and no longer care how we get it.” Anonymous
“I’m in a senior position so the increase is only minimal. At the same time, I’m really happy for other people. I see colleagues who are really struggling, children at home, rising costs, mortgage, interest rate rises, groceries, fuel, everything is going up, up, up so hopefully it will be a help for those people.” Jane Swift, specialist clinical nurse, Te Whatu Ora MidCentral community mental health and addiction service
“Excuse me while I say f$&# yeah! . . . Made my day.” Trish Sangster, RN, Christchurch Hospital, Facebook post.
“I thought it’s good news, but straight away the thought that follows is there’s an election next year . . . so, I don’t think it was out of any respect for nurses. In any case it’s a good move but it really has to be accompanied by the back pay to December 2019, and a further increase [in the final ERA decision].” Sam Mojel, RN, critical care team, Auckland City Hospital
“Just want to see it in our bank account. We have been promised so much that has not been delivered in the past four years by this health employer and government.” Anonymous member, Facebook post
NZNO members voted to take the issue to the ERA in April, and made a claim for back pay to December 2019 in the Employment Court.
NZNO’s lawyer Peter Cranney said at various points, NZNO asked Te Whatu Ora to make the interim pay increases, while the legal processes were carried out to determine the final pay equity rates.
“NZNO said to them, ‘Look, we’ve had a disagreement here, but you yourselves are saying that the agreement-in-principle rates are equal to pay equity. Now, we don’t agree with that, but why don’t you just pay that amount first then we’ll work out the difference later?
“Eventually, they decided to do it.”
The interim pay rate increases vary across nursing roles from 4.5 per cent for senior nurses, to 14.6 per cent for RNs on step 7.
NZNO’s Te Whatu Ora bargaining team has a claim for health care assistants who work in mental health to be paid as mental health care assistants.
For health-care assistants on the highest pay step (5), pay rates will increase from $53,803 to $61,540 — a lift of 14.4 per cent.
RNs on the highest pay step (7) will gain a 14.6 per cent lift in pay from $83,186 to $95,340.
Hussey, who is an NZNO delegate and on step 7, said the pay increase would mean she could save more for her retirement. She is also hoping to be able to take out private medical insurance . . . “because I don’t really want to be a patient in our public health system”.
The pay lift would be more significant for her daughter, an emergency nurse, currently on maternity leave.
“I’m really pleased for her, because when she goes back next year she will have that little bit more money.”
NZNO chief executive Paul Goulter said the interim orders were a “step in the right direction towards the goal of just wages for the 36,000 or so NZNO members who work for Te Whatu Ora, and who have been unjustly denied equality for a long time”.
Asked by Kaitiaki why the pay adjustment had not been made earlier, Te Whatu Ora board chair Rob Campbell said the agency didn’t think it was possible “without impacting” on the legal proceedings.
“More recently we got some advice that this was an avenue we could use and that really rose out of discussions before the ERA that this was an option.”
Carolyn Watson, an intensive care unit RN at Palmerston North Hospital, who is the sole earner for her family, said the interim rates and lump sum were very welcome.
As an RN on step 7, Watson’s pay will increase by 14.6 per cent from $83,186 to $95,340.
“This would make a very real difference to my family – and that is why I voted to accept the offer originally and not go to the ERA, even though it was unjust.”
“Life has become very difficult financially, especially recently, and every fortnight I manage to pay all the bills but am always down to my last $20 before my pay goes in and I often have to dip into the account I try to save into, in order to make ends meet.”
Watson said while she was thankful for the increase, it was “a real shame” the legal action was necessary and that Te Whatu Ora had not dealt with nurses fairly in the first instance.
Pay equity rates in NZNO’s claim, submitted to the ERA, are significantly higher than those offered by Te Whatu Ora. Senior nurse and nurse practitioner rates were based on the pay equity process, and maintaining their seniority in relation to RNs.
Cranney said the process used by the Crown to determine the rates didn’t comply with the Equal Pay Act and the Crown had also used out-of-date comparator salaries.
He said Te Whatu Ora was making the interim pay increases to avoid further damage to a frail and desperately understaffed health system.
“They can see the damage that it’s causing – people are leaving, people aren’t getting enough money to live on, people can’t afford to live and work in a hospital, and they’re seeing the damage that it’s causing.”
Current, interim, proposed (NZNO) pay equity rates
The table below shows the top rates for different nursing pay scales to be paid as an interim measure towards pay equity.
|Role||Current rate||Interim rate||% increase on current rate||NZNO proposed rate (to ERA)||% increase on current rate|
|Health Care Assistant Step 5||$53,803||$61,540||14.4%||$79,622||48%|
|Mental Health Care Assistant Step 5 (this role is not specified in current NZNO collective agreement)*||$60,610||$65,334||7.8%||$94,441||55.8%|
|Enrolled Nurse Step 5||$62,847||$73,609||17.1%||$95,375||51.7%|
|Registered Nurse Step 7||$83,186||$95,340||14.6%||$110,917||33%|
|Senior Nurse roles, Grade 6 – top step||$115,946||$121,161||4.5%||$151,167||30%|
|Senior Nurse Grade 8 and Nurse Practitioner- top step||$136,453||$143,718||5.3%||$169,440||24%|
Sources: Te Whatu Ora examples of agreement in principle pay rates, and NZNO pay equity update 22-09-2022, new nursing pay equity base rates filed with the ERA.
* A previous version of this story first published on Monday December 19 did not include the explanation in brackets. Amended on Wednesday December 21, 2022.