NATIONAL 4 February 2019
Dear Member,

Welcome to the 3rd issue for 2019 of ASMS Direct, our national electronic publication. It outlines the latest developments in the Resident Medical Officers industrial dispute.

You can also keep in touch with the latest news and views on health issues relevant to public hospital specialists via our website, which contains links (at the top of the home page) to our Facebook and LinkedIn pages, as well as our quarterly magazine The Specialist. We’re also on Twitter at

Significant RDA initiative in mediation rejected

Immediately after an unsuccessful mediation on 23 January, the second initiated by the Resident Doctors’ Association over the escalating industrial dispute between the DHBs and RDA, DHBs claimed the RDA had made no substantial proposal to progress the negotiations. However, it is now clear that this is not true.

The RDA had in fact proposed the following:

  1. In effect a four-year term (three years from now plus the year already spent on negotiations).
  2. The same salary increases that the nurses received in their MECA negotiations.
  3. A revised approach to the Schedule 10 roster approach that would reportedly increase the existing flexibility in application.
  4. Withdrawal of all other RDA and DHBs’ claims.
  5. An offer to the DHBs that they join an agreed approach between ASMS and RDA to address unintended consequences of Schedule 10 (an agreement that has yet to be signed) and acceptance of the Medical Council initiative to resolve the ‘safer hours’ concerns.

This was rejected by the DHBs at mediation. The DHBs subsequently acknowledged to ASMS that the RDA had made this offer, although they disputed that it included the Medical Council initiative. Three days later the RDA confirmed the above in writing to the DHBs.

The ASMS considers the RDA made a positive initiative which could have been a circuit breaker, and regrets that the DHBs rejected it. Consequently, ASMS wrote to the DHBs recommending that they reconsider. The response was ambiguous.

This is not the first time the DHBs have rejected circuit-breakers. Last September ASMS proposed a non-adversarial process involving us, RDA and the DHBs to address concerns over unintended consequences arising out of Schedule 10 away from the formal MECA negotiations. This was in recognition of the complexity of balancing ‘safer hours’ and continuity of training (and related matters). We believed this would be more productive and sustainable than the blunt instrument of collective bargaining. RDA agreed with us, but the offer was rejected by the DHBs.

The second attempt came from the Medical Council with their offer a fortnight ago. Again, this was accepted by RDA but rejected by the DHBs.

Escalating dispute

It is now clear following the second national strike that the dispute has further escalated and become more polarised. At the heart of the conflict is:

  1. A determined hard-line position of the DHBs of pursuing with claims that they knew the RDA would not accept (unless forced into submission) until 1 March. At that point the only employment agreements that can be offered to RMOs who change DHBs for their training is to either join StoNZ and become covered by its MECA, or accept an individual employment agreement based on the StoNZ MECA. That is, accept all the DHB claims that the RDA is strongly opposing, plus the complete removal of Schedule 10.
  2. An increasingly energised and combative RDA membership acutely aware of the vulnerability of RMOs in June when the next significant changeover occurs, with their dependence on DHB employment for training.

The DHBs’ strategy has been based on assumptions of (a) the RDA losing significant numbers of members, including to StoNZ, and (b) the RMO participation in the second strike being lower than the first.  But they have miscalculated, and in fact the reverse has happened. Prior to the November changeover the RDA had just under 3,500 members employed by DHBs. Membership inevitably declined during the changeover but has now built up to over 3,500. This is out of a total RMO workforce of fewer than 4,000.

There have been claims of ‘droves’ joining StoNZ, but this is from a low base. Further, there is a noticeable difference between StoNZ members and StoNZ members employed by DHBs (ie, final year advanced trainees who joined StoNZ last year, paid for a full year’s membership but have now completed their training). Whatever the StoNZ membership might be, the RDA has around 3,000 more members – at least. These numbers speak volumes.

The DHBs have read too much into the level of participation in the first strike, including the time of the year, the number on leave at that time, and the compounding effect of an increasingly energised RDA membership. Each of the three strike ballots to date have been characterised by increasing voter turnouts, high proportionate participation and high proportions voting for strike action (a fourth ballot is currently underway for around late February-early March). 

In what may be a positive development, on the initiative of the DHBs, they and RDA will be meeting today. It is understood that the two parties will be represented by their advocates only and the RDA have stated they want a mediator present. Hopefully some good will arise out of this but members should at this stage assume that the next 48-hour national strike will commence at 7am on Tuesday 12 February.

Meanwhile, ASMS is continuing its efforts behind the scenes in pursuit of a circuit-breaker, but it is not easy.

DHBs’ spokesperson mischievous

In an update to the DHBs (dated 28 January) from the lead chief executive for RMO negotiations (Dr Peter Bramley, Nelson Marlborough), which members may have seen, there is a revealing comment.  He states that the crux of the issue is to do with who decides the way work (including rosters) is to be organised for RMOs. He is adamant that this must be by DHB chief executives. He does say that this should be after considering the advice of SMOs and RMOs.  But he is clear that this is advice only. This is at variance with (and has implications for) the right of SMOs in our MECA to hours of work and job descriptions that are mutually agreed.

In the same update Dr Bramley has been mischievous. He alleges that ASMS is one of two organisations not participating in a medical workforce forum set up by the Director-General of Health (the other is the RDA). This is untrue. ASMS did not attend a one-off meeting called by the Director-General late December. This was because the meeting lacked focus, was provocative and misleading in its initiation (including undermining our efforts to establish a non-adversarial process to address the issues now at the centre of the current bitterly acrimonious industrial dispute), and was likely to be a talkfest by not addressing the issues that need to be addressed. Instead we focussed on our efforts to address our concerns over the unintended consequences of Schedule 10 with the RDA.

We have not an opportunity to attend an ongoing forum and Dr Bramley is being mischievous to suggest otherwise. ASMS has formally written to him about his comment so hopefully this silly gamesmanship will not continue.

Did you know ...

Your employer can not require you to do the work of striking workers during the upcoming RMO strike. However, if you do choose to take on RMO duties, ASMS and the DHBs have come to an agreement on the general requirements and special remuneration rates for SMOs during this period. Read more here:


Kind regards

Ian Powell