Allied health workers will hold a 24-hour strike on May 16 (Image: RNZ/123RF)
Allied health workers will hold a 24-hour strike on May 16 (Image: RNZ/123RF)

The BulletinApril 21, 2022

Is now the time for workers to strike?

Allied health workers will hold a 24-hour strike on May 16 (Image: RNZ/123RF)
Allied health workers will hold a 24-hour strike on May 16 (Image: RNZ/123RF)

After 18 months of failed pay negotiations and an injunction from DBHs, 10,000 health workers will strike in May, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in The Bulletin.

24-hour strike confirmed for May 16 

The Public Services Association (PSA) union confirmed yesterday that district health board (DHB) allied health workers would hold a 24-hour strike on May 16. It comes after 18 months of negotiations on a new multiemployer collective agreement. A pay offer was rejected in February and a strike planned for March. DHBs lodged an injunction to get those strikes stopped and they didn’t go ahead after the Employment Court ruled them illegal on the basis that they referenced a pay equity dispute that was being separately negotiated. The vote to strike followed several days of facilitation by the Employment Relations Authority that didn’t yield a settlement. In March Carly Gooch at Stuff spoke to allied health workers in Nelson, including one who said her rate of pay was $22.17 an hour. The living wage is $22.75. 

Who are ‘allied health workers’?

These kinds of terms are a bit amorphous and don’t help put faces to the people who play a critical role in our healthcare system. Allied healthcare workers are healthcare workers who aren’t part of the medical, dental or nursing professions. Within hospitals they are the people who ensure the instruments used to operate on you are sterilised. They are the lab workers who have processed millions of PCR tests for Covid-19. They are physios who get you walking, breathing at full capacity and home to recover, and social workers who assist DHB staff in dealing with victims of family violence. They are dietitians, pharmacists and prosthetists. Most have done a three year bachelor’s degree at the least as training and probably have a student loan. 

Australia, KFC and Bunnings hold more appeal

Just last week, Dr Emma Espiner wrote about a “system” held together “by bonus payments, good will and a refusal to let our colleagues and patients down”. We’re two years into a pandemic and health workers, appreciated by a grateful nation, are still dealing with the omicron outbreak. Borders are open and the PSA says members are responding to approaches from Australian recruiters, while others say they’re leaving their jobs in the health sector to work at KFC or Bunnings where pay is better. 

Workers want more than peanuts

Unsurprisingly irked by the offer of $10 and $50 payments, peanuts and, for some lucky staff, a pen as thanks from DHBs, conditions seem about right for health workers to be asking for more. Inflation is driving up the cost of living, the labour market is tight and and for many on a fixed income, now is the time to be asking for a pay rise, if only to ensure they don’t go backwards. 

In February, Rebecca Macfie wrote a piece for Newsroom titled “Workers willing to strike while inflation’s hot”. You could surmise that this planned industrial action from allied health workers is a good gauge of the current temperature in the room and mood of the worker in Aotearoa.

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