Health sector workers pay dispute and Labour's "Independent" pay panel.

From Middlemore to Whangarei Base and in little old Waitakere hospital the health sector workers have been making their voices heard in recent weeks. At Middlemore over 300 nurses and health sector workers rallied, supported by Unite Union, First Union and Etu. Notable was the absence of many public sector unions, though PSA did have a limited presence. At Waitakere, Auckland Action Against Poverty were there in solidarity, while in Whangarei there was a chorus of car horns as the public enthusiastically voiced their support.
What is clear from the strong turnout is that the 2% pay offer offered by the District Health Boards (DHBs) is not even close to what is required by our nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants.
In a bid to ward off strike action, Jacinda Ardern proposed an independent panel work with the NZ Nurses Organisation (NZNO) and DHBs to find agreement on pay equity and working conditions.
NZNO members are currently in the process of making a decision on industrial action should the independent panel not provide a desired outcome.
But exactly how independent is the ‘independent panel’?

Margaret Wilson is the ‘independent’ chair of this panel. She has held various positions in Labour governments of Geoffrey Palmer and Helen Clark as well as being the director of the Reserve Bank from 1985 to 1989. She is a member of the Labour Party of NZ. With such strong ties to the Labour party her independence and neutrality must be questioned.

Geoff Annals is representing the NZNO but he is the former chief executive of NZNO. At present he is the chief executive of Accuro Health Insurance. While Accuro, according to its website, is a not for profit health insurer, it is an insurance company that provides cover for private healthcare. Such organisations can only thrive if the public health sector is in decline. New Zealand’s public health sector has been run down over the years and now the workers in this sector and NZNO members have decided enough is enough. The fact that NZNO members are being represented by a non NZNO person who has a direct conflict of interest with the public health sector casts doubt on that proposed 2% increase shifting much in a positive direction.
Then there’s Julie Patterson, former Chief Executive of Whanganui DHB, who is representing the DHBs. She was Whanganui DHB’s chief executive until October 2017. One of her main achievements has been turning around Whanganui DHB’s $10 million deficit from nine years ago to being on budget before she resigned. It is notable that NZNO members from Whanganui DHB have also been holding pickets recently to demand a higher than 2% pay rise like their fellow members from other DHBs. It would not be surprising at all if Julie prioritises DHBs’ budget responsibilities over needs of nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants.
So it seems all the panellists on the  ‘independent’ panel are well placed to look after the dollars at the expense of workers in the public health sector. The outcome of panel negotiations, due mid-May, looks bleak for the working class.

Instead of running budget surpluses the government needs to invest in our public health system by employing more nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants.
The government must provide and adhere to timeframes for delivery of these demands.
And after all this carry-on at tax payers’ expense, “the panel’s recommendation is not binding on either side, but it is based on a joint approach and submissions and reflecting the views of both sides,” says panellist Wilson.
Meanwhile, the call is growing for ’18 in 18’ – an 18% pay rise for nurses to make up for years of underfunding. Strike action would be the first in decades by health workers, and they wouldn’t be doing it lightly. It is not industrial action, but ongoing underfunding of the health service, that is putting patients’ lives at risk. To offer 2% is not just to disrespect the nurses, but the ordinary Kiwis whose wellbeing depends on them. A victory for the nurses is a victory for all workers,

SA Editorial




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