Nurses turn out for striking senior doctors

September 6, 2023

‘Here come the nurses!’ was the appreciative cry from senior doctors striking outside Wellington Hospital yesterday as Tōpūtanga Tapuhi Kaitiaki o Aotearoa — NZNO members spilled off the Newtown bus and took their place on the picket line beside their colleagues.

“Their faces lit up as we were approaching — they said ‘here come the nurses!'” NZNO Wellington Hospital delegate Helen Kemp said.

Thousands of senior doctors and dentists employed by Te Whatu Ora went on strike nationwide for two hours yesterday — an unprecedented action, said Sarah Dalton, executive director of their union, the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS).

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NZNO delegate Helen Kemp, in green, with fellow delegate Grant Brookes at the Wellington doctors’ strike.

The vote to strike came after an offer ASMS says amounts to an 11 per cent pay cut in the face of high inflation, against a backdrop of doctors leaving New Zealand.

Kemp said it was important to come and stand by the senior hospital doctors, who had themselves stood by nurses at various strikes over similar issues. “It’s pretty reciprocal — it’s not about the individual, it’s about the overall state of the health system,” she said.

‘For consultants to walk out of a hospital to highlight the seriousness of the crisis, is a very powerful statement.’

“We need to stand in solidarity, highlight the cause and create more impact.”

While it wasn’t quite a sea of purple in Wellington — “more of a puddle” — Kemp said it was an important symbol of solidarity to attend and awhi (support) medical colleagues.

ASMS president Julian Vyas with NZNO delegate Anna Rosanowski (left) and organiser Stephanie Duncan in Christchurch.

“For consultants to walk out of a hospital to highlight the seriousness of the crisis, is a very powerful statement.”

Back at work today at Wellington Hospital, Kemp said many medical colleagues had expressed appreciation for the nurses’ presence. “We’re a good team – we have each other’s backs.”

Two more ASMS strikes have been scheduled over the next couple of weeks — for two-hours then four-hours — and Dalton said they may ballot members for further, longer, action, if Te Whatu Ora refused to budge.

“I’ll leave it to your imagination what we might ballot our members for after that.”

Dalton also revealed there had been no further offer made at bargaining today with Te Whatu Ora.

NZNO support for ASMS in Tairāwhiti.

Dalton said members appreciated the “really strong showing of nurses” in support particularly in places like Tairāwhiti — where ASMS doctors had turned out for nurses at NZNO’s May Gisborne Hospital health and safety strike.

‘For most of our members, it’s entirely new . . . for many many of our doctors it’s the first time they’ve been on strike.’

ASMS members in Tairāwhiti wanted to thank nurses for “coming out and staying pretty much the whole time — and actually sharing their skills about how you run a strike and how you picket”, Dalton said.

Sarah Dalton in Auckland.

“For most of our members, it’s entirely new . . . for many many of our doctors it’s the first time they’ve been on strike.”

In Auckland, too, she said members told her how “encouraged they felt to know that their collleagues — nurses, allied health, junior doctors — were in support of the action they were taking and they felt that support from their health-care and other union colleagues.”

“There are people who get it – and understand that what they’re out there for are terms and conditions that will maybe stop some people leaving — that might allow services to attract people in, because it’s pretty hard yards.”

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Picket locations for ASMS’ September 13 strike 10am-12 here.

NZNO and ASMS members outside Greenlane Hospital in Auckland.