Midwives staunch on pay claim

Rates should reflect qualifications, responsibility says union delegate.

Rates should reflect qualifications, responsibility says union delegate.

PROTEST: Striking Hauora Tairawhiti midwives took their case to the public at Heipipi Endeavour Park yesterday during the last day of their series of two-hour strikes. Picture by Paul Rickard

Gisborne midwives are adamant health boards need to improve their offer, after ending their series of two-hour strikes yesterday. Mediation begins tomorrow.

The strikes began on November 22 and involve more than 1150 midwives employed by the country’s 20 health boards

Acting MERAS union (Midwifery Employee Representation and Advisory Service) delegate for Tairawhiti, Anna Vita, said midwives were strong and determined.

“We hope the health boards will come up with an offer and meet all of our requests, or at least start talking.’’

DHBs spokesman and Hauora Tairawhiti chief executive Jim Green said health boards hoped mediation might settle the dispute.

Midwives covered by the MERAS union were looking for more money than the increase already accepted by other midwives.

Mr Green said that in a process separate to the pay talks, health boards and MERAS were investigating the midwives’ pay equity claim and any increase determined in that process would be implemented from December 31, 2019.

“Work is also under way looking at staffing levels across the sector.

“In the meantime, heath boards have made a significant pay offer that will see midwives’ pay increase by up to $10,000 in the next 13 months.

“MERAS has turned down 9 percent plus two pay step increases and a lump sum payment.

“It is the same increase offered to other midwives, but they’re asking for significantly more.

“We respect the important role of midwives but there are many parts to the MERAS proposal which would go well outside the funding heath boards have to settle these negotiations.”

Ms Vita said the position of health boards was that members should take what the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) had previously accepted.

But MERAS was a separate union and wanted to negotiate for themselves.

About 85 percent of health board midwives were members of MERAS, not the NZNO.

“The health boards are saying we have to take the 15 percent agreed to.

“But they might not have voted to accept the offer. We are a different profession. It would be like physiotherapists being lumped in with NZNO because they are small in number.

“We will carry on until we are recognised as a separate profession.”

Ms Vita said the health board pay offer was not good enough.

Midwives studied for four years, not three like nurses, and entered the workforce as autonomous practitioners, which allowed them to work alone and prescribe drugs.

Midwives wanted pay rates and pay differentials that reflected their qualifications and level of responsibility.

First year midwives could only work part-time because of the compulsory First Year of Practice programme, which included trips to Auckland or Wellington.

Ms Vita estimated a first year midwife could only work 80 percent of a full year.

Hospital cleaners, due to a recent agreement, would be paid more than first year midwives within several years.

After five years a midwife was at the top pay level regardless of experience or qualifications.

Unlike in the nursing profession, there was no further career progression.

“You can’t earn more money.’’

Ms Vita said only 2 or 3 percent of midwives reached the top level.

Mr Green ‘‘has to value his midwives’’, she said.

“He knows how hard it is to manage our maternity unit at times.

“I was the unit manager for years and we were chronically understaffed the whole time.”

Hauora Tairawhiti was now successfully ‘‘growing our own midwives”.

But that was not the case in other districts.

Ms Vita said only one Hauora Tairawhiti midwife could strike (each shift) because of the numbers needed to provide “life preserving services” at the hospital.

Staffing levels were not currently an issue in Gisborne, “but it very quickly turns”.

Gisborne midwives are adamant health boards need to improve their offer, after ending their series of two-hour strikes yesterday. Mediation begins tomorrow.

The strikes began on November 22 and involve more than 1150 midwives employed by the country’s 20 health boards

Acting MERAS union (Midwifery Employee Representation and Advisory Service) delegate for Tairawhiti, Anna Vita, said midwives were strong and determined.

“We hope the health boards will come up with an offer and meet all of our requests, or at least start talking.’’

DHBs spokesman and Hauora Tairawhiti chief executive Jim Green said health boards hoped mediation might settle the dispute.

Midwives covered by the MERAS union were looking for more money than the increase already accepted by other midwives.

Mr Green said that in a process separate to the pay talks, health boards and MERAS were investigating the midwives’ pay equity claim and any increase determined in that process would be implemented from December 31, 2019.

“Work is also under way looking at staffing levels across the sector.

“In the meantime, heath boards have made a significant pay offer that will see midwives’ pay increase by up to $10,000 in the next 13 months.

“MERAS has turned down 9 percent plus two pay step increases and a lump sum payment.

“It is the same increase offered to other midwives, but they’re asking for significantly more.

“We respect the important role of midwives but there are many parts to the MERAS proposal which would go well outside the funding heath boards have to settle these negotiations.”

Ms Vita said the position of health boards was that members should take what the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) had previously accepted.

But MERAS was a separate union and wanted to negotiate for themselves.

About 85 percent of health board midwives were members of MERAS, not the NZNO.

“The health boards are saying we have to take the 15 percent agreed to.

“But they might not have voted to accept the offer. We are a different profession. It would be like physiotherapists being lumped in with NZNO because they are small in number.

“We will carry on until we are recognised as a separate profession.”

Ms Vita said the health board pay offer was not good enough.

Midwives studied for four years, not three like nurses, and entered the workforce as autonomous practitioners, which allowed them to work alone and prescribe drugs.

Midwives wanted pay rates and pay differentials that reflected their qualifications and level of responsibility.

First year midwives could only work part-time because of the compulsory First Year of Practice programme, which included trips to Auckland or Wellington.

Ms Vita estimated a first year midwife could only work 80 percent of a full year.

Hospital cleaners, due to a recent agreement, would be paid more than first year midwives within several years.

After five years a midwife was at the top pay level regardless of experience or qualifications.

Unlike in the nursing profession, there was no further career progression.

“You can’t earn more money.’’

Ms Vita said only 2 or 3 percent of midwives reached the top level.

Mr Green ‘‘has to value his midwives’’, she said.

“He knows how hard it is to manage our maternity unit at times.

“I was the unit manager for years and we were chronically understaffed the whole time.”

Hauora Tairawhiti was now successfully ‘‘growing our own midwives”.

But that was not the case in other districts.

Ms Vita said only one Hauora Tairawhiti midwife could strike (each shift) because of the numbers needed to provide “life preserving services” at the hospital.

Staffing levels were not currently an issue in Gisborne, “but it very quickly turns”.

ED busier than ever in Oct

Spring caught out Gisborne Hospital’s Emergency Department (ED) with a record number of October presentations.

Chief executive Jim Green told the Hauora Tairawhiti board that October had been the busiest month of the year for the ED, with presentations at a five-year high.

The numbers surpassed winter counts and reflected flu-like illnesses in the community.

“We have never previously had this October jump. I would never have predicted that,’’ Mr Green said. “I would have thought we were past the worst of winter.”

He said the biggest increase was in the number of triage 4 and 5 patients (triage 1 covers patients in most urgent need of care).

Primary care providers had also seen a big influx of patients.

There had been a small drop-off after the late October peak.

Mr Green said that despite the October numbers, Hauora Tairawhiti had reached the health target of having 95 percent of patients admitted, discharged, or transferred from ED within six hours.

Hauora Tairawhiti’s figure was 95.1 percent in October.

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