National | District Health Board

Nurses reject latest pay offer, strikes could be back on

Māori healthcare could be an unintended victim of the pay dispute between the district health boards and the country's nurses.

Last night nurses voted against the latest offer, believed to total $400 million.

With this, strikes could be back on the table for August and September unless "an acceptable offer is made."

NZ Nurses Organisation president Kerri Nuku says the members remain committed to pushing for fairer and safer working conditions including ensuring there is enough staff available to cover shifts. She says there is a concern that the pay dispute could see fewer Māori nurses remain in New Zealand, or even enter the profession.

"We gave evidence at the Wai2575 Waitangi Tribunal and a number of the panel were asked: 'Would you encourage your daughter or son to go into nursing?'

"Out of this panel of five, only one said yes. The rest said, 'I'd encourage them to go somewhere else, they could become a digger driver and get paid more than you do as a nurse with the responsibilities that you do have.'

"There's a real risk that it doesn't encourage people to come into nursing, and that would be a real shame, given that as Māori we are more likely to have those complicated, more complex care needs."

Nuku says there also needs to be "culturally safe nurses to be delivering good, quality care to our whānau."

Andrew Little responds

At a media stand-up today in Parliament, Health minister Andrew Little said he wanted to be very clear: "The proposal that was put to [the] Nurses Organisation members was one they put to the government. The Nurses Organisation members have rejected their own union's proposal."

Little said he hears what nurses are saying about their working lives.

"They [nurses] have told me how a combination of working on short-staffed shifts, working extra hours, and constantly having to deal with the high number of patients especially in emergency departments, has made their job more stressful than ever.

"The government acknowledges the distress and despair these circumstances are causing, and we are committed to fixing it."