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Protests for underpaid nurses

Last month hundreds of nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants rallied around the country to protest low wages and unsafe working conditions. Photo: New Zealand Nurses Organisation.

Last month hundreds of nurses, healthcare assistants and midwives, and public health workers rallied around the country to protest low wages and unsafe working conditions.

After almost a decade of an underfunded healthcare system, the two percent pay increase offered by the District Health Boards (DHBs) to nurses, midwives, health care assistants and community nurses has got workers saying enough is enough.

DHBs are responsible for providing or funding healthcare in their district (like Northland, Auckland, Canterbury, Whanganui) and employ around 27,000 public health workers. To ensure fair working conditions for all, the 20 DHBs and the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) sign a multi-employer collective agreement (MECA). This means that every public nurse, healthcare assistant and midwife is subject to the same pay scale, hours of work, overtime, and more, no matter what DHB they work in.

These collective agreements are fixed-term, allowing for working conditions to be negotiated every few years. The most recent DHB MECA ended in July 2017 and in December, the DHB offered a two percent pay increase which NZNO members rejected (note that only union members can have a say).

On the 26th of March, the ‘revised’ offer, which contained barely any changes, was also rejected. NZNO launched the ‘#healthneedsnursing’ campaign and announced nationwide rallies. The government responded by offering an independent panel (stalling tactic, anyone?)

The next step in negotiations is a nationwide strike. This would involve a 24-hour stoppage at all DHBs on the 5th and 12th of July, and members began voting on the 23rd of April to determine whether this will go ahead.

Public health workers have repeatedly said they don’t want to withhold healthcare from the public; they went into the sector to help people. But with the DHB refusing to lift their wages and recognise their invaluable work, it might be the only option they have left.

This is not the first time public health workers have had to fight for the government to recognise their worth. In the early 2000s, nurses were paid 10-20 percent less than teachers and police. NZNO launched the ‘Fair Pay – Because we’re worth it!’ campaign and gained pay parity in 2005. Now, new police officers start on $7,000 more than nurses and midwives, despite being paid to train instead of taking out a $25,000 student loan.

We need nurses, healthcare assistants and midwives, and they need to be paid a wage that reflects their qualifications, skills and the life-saving service they provide. As history shows, it is collective action that is going to achieve this. Turn up to any future rallies, chat to your friends and family about it and if you’re a nursing or midwifery student, join NZNO. When our healthcare system is under attack: stand up, fight back!

Got a problem you need help with? It could be related to your pay, rent, assignments, food security or something else. Make sure you visit AUTSA’s advocacy team; they exist for you and can help uphold your rights! For more, email:

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