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Strike: Nurses down tools

Masterton Medical Centre nurses rallying for better pay. PHOTO/KAREN COLTMAN

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Nurses seldom down tools and walk off the job over pay, but more than 20 Wairarapa nurses went on strike on Monday at 8am for 24 hours.

Masterton Medical nurses marched on Monday, raising their union flags and voices for pay equal to district health board senior nurses.

Eight Carterton Medical Centre nurses also went out on strike, joining about 3200 other private health care nurses on strike nationally.

They return to work yesterday at 8am. While on strike, the 16 Masterton nurses walked from the Masterton Medical on Colombo Rd and around various blocks in town.

As they walked, they chanted “Fair Pay for all Nurses” and waved New Zealand Nurses Association flags.

Passing drivers honked their horns, and one woman came out of her office on Chapel St and clapped for them.

NZNO pay negotiations have been ongoing for a year, with employers saying they want to pay more but cannot because the “government-controlled funding model is broken”.

Leading the march, Masterton Medical registered nurse Ange Williams said they were striking because the DHB senior nurses had moved to a seven-step pay increase system after their national strike and pay negotiation in 2018.

But private healthcare nurses still have a five-step pay scale which means they are not able to reach a pay level equivalent to public sector nurses.

“It is not fair that our senior nurses are getting paid 10 per cent less than public sector nurses,” Williams said.

“We work weekends and hold clinics and assist patients, so they don’t end up in hospital, and we did the covid-19 testing and are worth the same as public nurses,” she said.

Tu Ora Compass Health deputy chief executive Justine Thorpe said it fully supported pay parity for primary care nurses.

“It’s very frustrating as GPs want to recognise the valuable work nurses do, and we want new nurses to see a career in primary care positively.

“In the long run, a pay gap is disastrous for primary care and for New Zealanders.

“If the government won’t fund a pay increase, then GPs would be forced to increase patient fees to fund it, which we are reluctant to do, and which is not permitted for low-cost access practices.

“We call on the government to recognise the value that primary care nurses provide – which is being demonstrated very visibly in the current covid response – and to fund pay parity.”

Masterton nurse-practitioner-in-training Paula Nilsson said it was hard for them to get their voices heard.

“We love what we do but want fair pay. We are changing and saving lives, but, because we aren’t at the DHB, we are treated differently.”

She said Masterton Medical was a good employer and was supportive of the NZNO strike action.

Notice has already been served to employers of another one-day strike in two weeks on Monday November 23.

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