National 4 November 2016
Dear Member,

Welcome to the thirteenth issue for 2016 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

Observations on the DHBs’ responsibility for failure to agree on SMO rates (additional duties only) for the first RMO strike

You may be aware that another 48-hour RMO strike in late November is possible.  An RMO ballot is underway and the outcome may be advised any day now unless the DHBs and RDA reach agreement or make serious progress in further negotiations before then.

In anticipation of that possibility, we report again on the disingenuous position of the national leadership of the DHBs (with regard to ASMS and our negotiations for SMOs rates for those who undertake additional duties as a result of the strike) in the lead up to the first strike last month. 

In the event that strike action is confirmed and the DHBs are notified accordingly, ASMS will offer advice in respect of the second strike.

We previously recorded our concern and frustration at the DHBs’ irresponsibility and bad faith in the national ASMS Direct of (14 October 2016).   A letter dated 13 October addressed to all SMOs went out over the signature of Ron Dunham, the Chief Executive of Lakes DHB and the Chair of the DHBs’ National Chief Executives Group.   His expectation was that each chief executive would then forward his letter on to their SMO workforces.  But it became clear that there was division among the chief executives, with a number opting to ignore Mr Dunham’s letter because of its inflammatory tone.

Mr Dunham’s letter and some of the alternatives to SMOs in explaining their version of events sowed further confusion by offering ASMS members a choice (within a range) of rates they might claim (some came closer to the ASMS claim by simply offering the actual unadjusted 2008 rates rather than also those rates cut by up to 33%).

The important point to make about a number of the letters sent to SMOs by individual DHBs is that they contained a number of statements that were, at best, wrong and misleading or, at worst, dishonest.

For example:

  1. They stated there was a rate within the existing MECA that pays SMOs between $169 and $208 per hour for additional duties undertaken in such circumstances.    That is simply not true.  Whether the writer of those words was ignorant of the MECA or dishonest is not clear.   Clause 13.4(a) does provide for an hourly rate of $169 (double the Specialist Step 6 hourly rate) to be paid for an “immediate and unexpected absence of an RMO”.   But the absence of RMOs during a strike is neither immediate nor unexpected and Clause 13.4(a) has absolutely no application during an RMO strike.   Furthermore, nothing in Clause 13.4(a) refers to any rate(s) in excess of $169.  The $208 rate referred to in Ron Dunham’s letter is a figment of someone’s fevered imagination.  
  2. The chief executives are trying to distance themselves from their 2008 agreement with ASMS by snidely describing those rates as being “union negotiated”.  Are they embarrassed to acknowledge they too were parties to that agreement?
  3. They disgracefully state that the 20 CEOs call into question the ethics of the rate demanded by the union, in reference to our claim for the 2008 rates plus a CPI adjustment of 13.6% for the intervening eight years.   The union did not “demand” – we submitted a claim, which we were entitled to do and no one should be surprised that our starting point was the inflation adjusted deal agreed with DHBs eight years earlier.  Are the employers belatedly now acknowledging their own unethical behaviour by agreeing to the 2008 deal?
  4. Further, our negotiators in 2016 made it clear that although we had claimed a CPI adjustment on the 2008 rates, we were open to negotiation over the adjustment - and that remains our position today.
  5. The DHBs stated they would “reluctantly” pay up to $500 “on top of full pay”.  The implication being that greedy SMOs would receive $500/hour in addition to their standard hourly rate for their normal duties.  That’s an outrageous statement to make, without qualification and is patently dishonest.  The truth is that the only SMOs who might receive the $500 (or the inflation adjusted rate of $568) per hour would be those who worked additional hours, shifts or duties over and above their normal day’s work.  No one who worked their normal hours for the day would be entitled to an additional $500 or $568 per hour for their normal hours.  At best an SMO who worked their normal hours but without their usual complement of RMOs might qualify for an additional $300 (or the inflation adjusted rate of $340) per hour.

Chief executives’ double standard? You be the judge

Belt tightening isn’t for everyone, it seems.  While, according to their national representatives including their shared services agency DHBSS, the chief executives believed that the rates for SMOs undertaking additional duties as a result of an RMO strike, that were agreed in 2008, should be reduced by up to 33%, this does not apply to their own salaries.

ASMS analysis of chief executive salary increases shows they increased by an average of 17.9% from June 2010 to June 2015 – nearly double the rate of inflation for that period.  Extrapolating from that to cover the broader period from June 2008 to June 2016, and comparing salary increases with inflation over that time, we estimate the average salary increase from June 2008 to June 2016 was approximately 26.4%. Contrast this with the ASMS proposal for a 13.6% increase in the rates for those SMOs who undertook additional duties.  Also contrast it with the chief executives eventual unilaterally declared position these rates ranging from a cut of 33% to no increase.

What about the head of the DHBs Employment Relations Strategy Group, Whanganui Chief Executive Julie Patterson, who represented the chief executives in the farcical ‘negotiations’ with ASMS over these payments for additional work?  The salary for this Whanganui position increased by 15.9% from June 2010 to June 2015 (by a higher rate over six years that the inflation adjusted 2008 rates over eight years.

Given the attack in the name of the chief executives (although discretely distanced from by a number) on ASMS for alleged unethical conduct over the additional payments, words like pot, kettle and black come to mind.

Annual Conference highlight: tackling the issue of frailty

Hawke’s Bay geriatrician Tim Frendin, who is also a National Executive member, will be addressing the ASMS Annual Conference on the topic of frailty. This is increasingly an issue for senior doctors and others working in the public hospital system, with New Zealand’s aging population.

And a reminder – please put the date of the Annual Conference in your diaries if you haven’t already: 17-18 November at Te Papa, Wellington.

The Conference will feature a range of presentations on topics relevant to your work. In addition to Dr Tim Frendin’s address, there will be presentations on the ASMS-DHB MECA negotiations, an address from Health Minister Jonathan Coleman, Dr Derek Sherwood (Chair of Council of Medical Colleges) on proposed changes to the funding model for vocational medical training, economist Shamubeel Eaqub on the economics of the health story and the role of public engagement, Associate Professor Phil Bagshaw on physician advocacy, and Dr Charlotte Chambers, ASMS Principal Analyst, on her research exploring intentions to leave the New Zealand public health workforce.

Every branch is entitled to a set number of delegates – please contact our Membership Support Officer Kathy Eaden at if you are interested in attending.

Did you know…about payment for public holidays?

If you would normally work on a public holiday, you are entitled to a day off on full pay. If you actually work or are on call on “any part of” any of these days, you are entitled to a day-in-lieu on full pay at a later date, plus your usual pay for the day worked, plus a load of 50% of your “relevant daily rate” for every hour worked on
the public holiday.

If you are a shift worker, eg, in ICU or ED, and you are rostered off, you are entitled to a day-in-lieu on full pay on another mutually convenient day.

More information is available in:

• Clause 24.2(b) and 24.3(c) of the DHB MECA:

• Section 50(1) of the Holidays Act 2003:

Kind regards

Ian Powell
Executive Director