NATIONAL 10 April 2019
Dear Member,

Welcome to the 6th issue for 2019 of ASMS Direct, our national electronic publication. 

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

Ongoing industrial dispute between DHBs and RDA

By now you will be aware that the Resident Doctors’ Association had issued notice of a four-day strike by RDA members commencing on Monday 15 April and further, due to a minor error in the formal strike notification process, this has now been withdrawn.  There is currently another strike ballot of RDA members underway for a five-day strike commencing 8am Monday 29 April.

ASMS is acutely aware of the prolonged and escalating pressure this conflict is putting on senior medical staff.  This is more so because the conflict was avoidable and because SMOs are not party to the dispute. We are very grateful for your efforts in what is obviously a difficult situation for all involved and acknowledge the extra work you face in these circumstances.

If you need advice or support during this stressful time, please contact your ASMS industrial officer – we are here to help as much as we can.

A list of ASMS industrial officers for each region is at and you are also welcome to ring our national office on 04 499 1271.

‘Facilitation’ applied for to resolve dispute

In an effort to find a circuit-breaker the RDA has applied to the Employment Relations Authority under the Employment Relations Act to initiate a process called facilitation (non-binding but potentially persuasive arbitration).  This applies to situations in collective agreement negotiations where a serious impasse has arisen in a protracted process which has become acrimonious and it is in the public interest for the ERA to attempt to facilitate an outcome.  As a result, the ERA has determined the following process:

  1. On 11 April the ERA will consider the RDA’s application for facilitation and the DHBs’ response.
  2. In the event that the ERA accepts RDA’s application (this appears likely), the ERA will endeavour to facilitate an agreed outcome between the parties (ie, RDA and DHBs) on 15 April.
  3. If a facilitated outcome is not achieved on 15 April, then the ERA will then make its own decision on the dispute.  This will be non-binding on the parties, but the ERA can publicly release its decision (hence the potential persuasiveness).

ASMS welcomes the RDA’s facilitation application but is confused and disappointed with the DHBs’ response.  While some chief executives, at least, believe the DHBs are or should be supporting the RDA’s application, the official ‘State in Reply’ (18 March) on their behalf from the employment law firm Dundas Street states the opposite. It is impossible to read this document as anything other than opposing the RDA’s application.  Its features include:

  1. Claiming that the MECA negotiations have not been “unduly protracted” or that they are at “…the point where it can be said that extensive efforts to resolve the difficulties between the parties have failed…”.  This claim is made knowing that negotiations had commenced around 13 months earlier and attempts to resolve issues with an external mediator had failed.
  2. Claiming that the strikes had not been “acrimonious”!
  3. Claiming that further strike action would not be likely to substantially affect the public interest!
  4. Complete silence on the impact of the dispute and strikes on SMOs, leaving a strong implication that there was no detrimental impact.  On 4 March I wrote to the lead chief executive for these negotiations (Peter Bramley, Nelson Marlborough), expressing serious concern about the impact on many senior medical staff ranging from fatigue to exhaustion.  He recognised the seriousness of the situation by recognising that it be discussed at the National Joint Consultation Committee (which has happened) but his representatives have conveyed the opposite to the ERA.

This response is irresponsible.  It is possible that this was the tipping point in the RDA National Executive’s decision to ballot its members on further strike action.

Either the DHBs’ position is driven by a core group of hard-line chief executives or there is a significant gap between the chief executive group and those responsible for executing their position. 

ASMS has made a media statement on the RDA’s facilitation application to the ERA, urging the ERA to accept it and commenting on the unsustainable pressure on SMOs as the dispute drags on (

Responding to fatigue

We cannot emphasise enough the importance of looking after yourselves during periods of increased work such as that being experienced because of this industrial dispute. ASMS has produced an Advice document on recovery time which includes the following:

The default situation in the absence of any form of recovery time is that a SMO can refuse to work if the SMO believes she or he is not safe to practise. This happened often in the past and led to last minute cancellation of lists or clinics, with consequent disruption to patients. This is not the sensible way to deal with fatigue but if you have no other option and you are not safe to practise because of fatigue, you must not treat patients.

The full ASMS Advice on recovery time is at

Kind regards,

Ian Powell