National 14 October 2016
Dear Member,

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DHBs break off negotiations over SMO payments for additional work undertaken during RMO strike (18-20 October)

Unfortunately, and unexpectedly, the DHBs have broken off discussions with ASMS over the payment rates for additional work undertaken by SMOs during the 48-hour RMO strike from 18 to 20 October. What is particularly concerning is the deliberately disingenuous tactics they have engaged in.

On Tuesday the negotiation process began involving ASMS Industrial Henry Stubbs and two representatives from the DHBs’ shared services agency DHBSS (one, Donna McGarvey, is an advocate in our SMO DHB MECA negotiations). The purpose was to seek agreement on rates of pay for ASMS members who, in the course of the impending RMO strike next week, work additional duties or whose normal duties during the strike are more onerous in the absence of their normal level and/or quality of RMO support. These rates are additional to normal salary.

ASMS’s starting point for these negotiations was the agreement reached in 2008 between the DHBs and the Association, plus the CPI movement since 2008. 2008 was the last time there had been an RMO strike. The DHBs’ opening position was to circulate a document which was the 2008 agreement with all mention of the Association redacted and decreasing the rates by between 28% and 33%. They have offered no justification as to what had changed since 2008 except that implicitly that SMOs were worth less in real terms than they were in 2008. At the end of this meeting Donna McGarvey advised Henry Stubbs that she expected a two-hour turnaround before she could get back to him. However, 2 hours turned out to be around 48.

The duplicitous events of 13-14 October

Yesterday (13 October) ASMS continued to try to reach an agreement with the DHB chief executives who were meeting in Wellington. This involved teleconferences between myself and the Chair of the DHBs Employment Relations Strategy Group (Whanganui Chief Executive Julie Patterson), along with Donna McGarvey. ASMS was explicit that we were willing to negotiate a figure between the 2008 figure, and the 2008 figure plus CPI. This explicitness was both verbal and by email. We did this in effort to get an agreement and in the knowledge that a lack of clarity would be an additional stressor you and your patients.

After waiting for some time to receive the chief executives’ response, I advised their representatives that we were under pressure to provide advice to members on what was happening. I then was contacted by their two representatives advising that they had reached a position but needed to consult with two absent chief executives overnight. They would not tell my what this was (claiming this was being respectful to the two absentees) but would do so the following morning (today). I took this at face value and said I would wait until I heard back.

It now turns out that I was misled. While there may have been two absent chief executives they needed to consult, there is much more to it than this. In particular, they have used the time to take two actions:

  1. To prepare a circular to be sent to all SMOs (presumably by each chief executive) outlining rates that they have determined unilaterally. The letter is in the name of the national chair of the chief executives, Ron Dunham from Lakes DHB, but undoubtedly central to it is Julie Patterson and DHBSS. It decrees their position and also nastily misrepresents ASMS’s position.
  2. Although not at any point discussing it with us, they are using the time gained by this tactic to go DHB by DHB and, where possible, through ASMS branch officers who under our Constitution do not have this role. Alternatively, some chief executives may simply determine the rate.

In particular, they are seeking to unilaterally impose a confusing position based on a range of rates by attempting to marginalise ASMS. The range of rates is between the DHBs original offer and the rates in the 2008 agreement. The range of rates proposal is unfair, divisive, confusing and will be a distraction when our members’ energies should be focused on ensuring patient safety over the period of the strike. For those chief executives and senior managers who wish to impose a payment rate it gives them increased leverage. It also reflects a high level of incompetence to embark upon this process.

It is important to emphasise that at no point have the DHBs discussed with ASMS this range of rates and DHB by DHB approach. This has all been unilaterally determined by them.

The DHBs representatives have accused ASMS of acting unethically for claiming the 2008 agreement plus the CPI. This is an unconscionable accusation. By implication they also accuse the chief executives (some of whom are still in office) who were parties to the 2008 agreement of acting unethically. Ironically this unethical behaviour accusation extends to the current Director-General of Health Chai Chuah who, in 2008, was himself a DHB chief executive.

Instead arguably it would be unethical for ASMS and SMOs to collude with DHBs so they were in a position to save money during a strike. In 2008 some SMOs donated the money they received to various charities. This is an option that would still be open to our members if they feel they personally don’t need the money.

The circular from Ron Dunham also accuses ASMS of “demanding” the rates (CPI adjusted) that we opened full well. The writers of this circular know full well that this is false.

The negotiation style that the DHBs have indulged in is outrageous and incendiary and indicates a cavalier attitude to their loyal SMO staff and the difficulties that they will be facing over the strike period.

ASMS advice to members

Below are the rates ASMS recommends to members (additional to the SMO’s “full pay” – usually gross fortnightly earnings based on agreed job size and current remuneration schedule):


  1. For each hour usually worked as part of normal job size - $340 per hour
  2. For each additional hour worked, ie, those in excess of the normal job size for the day - $568 per hour
  3. For each call back including travelling to or from place of work and back, if called back from home a minimum of 3 hours shall be paid at the rate in b) above - $568 per hour
  4. For each hour on call, including payment for any telephone discussion that does not result in being called back to the DHB (excluding hours paid under (c) above) - $284 per hour

Our advice to you is simply demand the rates outlined and make clear that you are working on the understanding that this is the rate that you will be paid. You have more important things to do than spend time arguing about money when your focus should be on ensuring your patients are safe. Don’t be intimidated or pressured. The more you act collectively the better that you may succeed.

For your information here is the wording that we have agreed with the DHBs that was meant to give a clear position to SMOs ( DHBs have now issued this with ASMS photo-shopped out. Our apologies for the inevitable confusion but the DHBs seem set on making an already difficult situation worse.

Should there be any dispute please in the first instance contact your branch officers and then the ASMS industrial staff.

Kind regards

Ian Powell