National 26 May 2021
Kia ora

As if this year wasn’t already busy or challenging enough ... 

We know that the nurses’ strike is going to pose real challenges to staff and patients AND we fully support their cause for decent pay and conditions. We are also negotiating for our new MECA and as you are already aware, it’s a tough slog. We will have more news on that front in the next couple of weeks.

We are painfully aware of the ongoing pressures acute demand and workforce shortages are placing on you all – but want particularly to acknowledge our members at Waikato, who have the ransomware attack fall out to deal with on top of everything else. 

Nurses’ strike

The Nurses Organisation has voted to strike for eight hours on June 9, over the breakdown of their pay negotiations. We are still hopeful that DHBs will make a more acceptable offer to them. However, if strike action does go ahead, it will clearly impact on ASMS members.

Here is some initial guidance on issues which arose during the last nurses’ strike in 2018.

Should all elective services be cancelled?

Yes. Even where staff may be available to provide a service, back up for services may be adversely affected by the strike. DHBs are rescheduling electives in advance so the wards are as empty as possible on the day. The day should be planned to be like a non-festive Christmas Day.

Should SMOs volunteer to work additional hours during the strike?

This is your call. You cannot be compelled to cover the work of a striking nurse. The life preserving services (LPS) agreements that your DHB will have with NZNO should ensure that patients are protected from permanent harm or threat to life.

What would be a fair rate of pay for any hours beyond your normal hours you agree to do?

Our recommendation is that additional work arising from the strike should be paid for as follows:

  • a minimum T2 of your normal hourly rate for any work requested by the employer which is work in addition to (either before or after) normal hours of work for that day
  • a minimum T2 of your normal hourly rate for any clinical work requested where the SMO would otherwise have been on non-clinical duties, and the non-clinical duties have not been re-scheduled. This rate is inclusive of normal pay, so is in effect T1 in addition to normal pay

Should SMOs do nurses’ work?

No. DHBs and NZNO will have agreements for the provision of life preserving services (LPS) to protect lives and avoid permanent harm.

However, sometimes the reality can be messy especially where both doctors and nurses might undertake similar work as part of their normal duties. These duties need to be within your scope of practice (this is the position of the Medical Council). You need to be familiar with and trained in the relevant procedures. Do not do anything you are not comfortable with.

Please let us know if you have any further questions or concerns.

Many of you will want to show support for your nursing colleagues. You can do this in any number of ways, such as wearing a badge, talking with patients about the reasons they are taking industrial action, joining the picket line before or after your workday (or during a break). We know that health workers never take industrial action without compelling reasons. We support uplift of pay and conditions for all our health care workers.

MECA negotiations

As nurses head into industrial action, we have another two days of MECA negotiations with DHBs this week. It will be interesting to see how they respond to our claims in the wake of what can only be described as the Government’s mishandling of the call for public sector pay restraint. ASMS and other unions took a strong and angry message from their members to the Minister for Public Services Chris Hipkins. He assured us there is no ‘pay freeze’ and that negotiations will take place in good faith without pre-determined outcomes. We will wait and see. You can read more on the agreement reached between the unions and the Minister in the CTU press release or in this media article.

Gender pay gap

An article in the New Zealand Herald earlier this month on the gender pay gap among senior doctors generated significant discussion among members. It contained data sourced by the Herald through Official Information Act requests to all DHBs. ASMS was quoted in the article but we want to emphasise the data did not come from us. We are already well aware of gender pay gaps in the senior medical workforce. 

Research commissioned by us, which has recently been published in the BMJ Open, suggests a gender pay gap in hourly earnings of medical specialists of 12.5% - irrespective of age, specialty, and hours of work. 

It is something we are working to correct. Alongside TAS, we are conducting a pilot of actual earnings data, qualifications received, time spent in the workforce and other possible indicators of experience, to quantify whether and how such a gender pay gap manifests.  We have received earnings data from three sampled DHBs and are working to progress analysis.  Based on this pilot, we intend to refine a methodology to proceed with a full audit of all pay data across all DHB employers.
We also conduct a yearly analysis of earnings data based on the salary steps as specified in the MECA. The DHB salaries and breakdown by gender and salary step can be found in the 2020 analysis on the ASMS website. You can find it here.

Budget 2021

Budget 2021 delivered a significant amount of new spending for health - $4.7 billion. That included $500 million to get the Government’s health reforms underway. In its post Budget press release ASMS called for more workforce investment which you can read here. If you are interested in a more detailed breakdown of the Budget and what it might actually mean, you can read the CTU’s annual budget analysis. The health spending analysis which ASMS contributed to, is on p18 of the report which you can read here.

Health equity – be part of the solution!

Don’t forget to register for our virtual conference on health equity – Creating Solutions - Towards health equity outcomes for all, on July 2-3. ASMS is co-hosting the event alongside the Canterbury Charity Hospital Trust. There is an exciting programme of national and international speakers and health sector leaders. It is being opened by the Health Minister Andrew Little. All those attending will be asked to contribute to practical solutions to growing health inequities in Aotearoa New Zealand. You can find out more and register here.

Art Exhibition

We are pleased to confirm that an art exhibition featuring the work of senior doctors and dentists is going ahead. The “Doctor and Dentist Artists” exhibition is being curated by the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts in Wellington, where the artworks will go on display. It will coincide with ASMS’ Annual Conference in November.

More than 50 doctors and dentists have already signed up to take part but there is room for more. The artwork can include ceramics, sculpture, paintings, photography, fabric art, or jewellery. Decisions on whether individual works will be accepted will be made by Academy staff.

If you are keen to submit something or want more details, please contact our industrial officer Lloyd Woods at as soon as possible.

We are looking forward to what promises to be a great event!

Doctors fighting for democracy in Myanmar

For the past three months thousands of doctors in Myanmar have been on strike, refusing to work for the military junta after the 1 February coup. Last month 120 doctors across Myanmar were charged with ‘shaming the state’ and could face more than two years in prison. Those who continue their strike action have been offering free care through community hospitals or other means but have now gone months without pay. 

UnionAID, which works to alleviate poverty and achieve social justice for working people in Asia and the Pacific, is holding a special appeal. It calls on New Zealand union members to support unions and workers in countries like Myanmar struggling for human rights and relief from poverty. Visit 2021 May Day Appeal – UnionAID to make a donation.

Kia kaha koutou

Sarah Dalton