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‘Underpaid and understaffed’

Nurses marched through Masterton on Wednesday stopping outside the Wairarapa Times-Age. PHOTO/GRACE PRIOR

Nurses on strike

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“If we’re out here, there’s something wrong in there.”

That was the sentiment shared by one of the hundreds of nurses and other healthcare workers who took to the streets of Masterton on Wednesrday as they went on strike for better pay and working conditions.

More than 200 members of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation gathered with banners and placards along the road outside Wairarapa Hospital and marched from there down Queen St as the eight-hour strike got under way.

The vocal and good-natured crowd of health workers cheered loudly as passing motorists and truck drivers tooted their support.


NZNO delegates Edna Beech, Lucy McLaren, and Jenni Roberts were there, along with the hundreds of others.

They said the health workers were on strike because they were underpaid and understaffed.

“We’re really pleased with the number of off-duty staff here supporting us,” Roberts said, adding many motorists had been supportive.

“There’s elderly people, truckies, and medical colleagues putting their weight behind us,” she said as an ambulance went by tooting loudly.

“It’s nice getting the support from the public,” Beech said.

“You should never have to fight for safe staffing.

“We care. We rock up every day because we care.”

During the strike, sufficient medical cover was in place at Wairarapa Hospital.

A hospital spokesperson said Wairarapa Hospital was at 95 per cent capacity on Wednesday and that 95.4 per cent of its NZNO members were on strike.

“To ensure the safety of our patients and staff on duty, 23 life preserving services positions were agreed with the NZNO.”

To work safely during the strike period, Wairarapa DHB rescheduled 58 patients who will now wait up to a month for their planned treatment, which includes endoscopy, general surgery, and orthopaedic surgery.

“Our nursing workforce is key to our service, and we greatly value their everyday contribution,” a hospital spokesperson said.

“We know that the decision to strike is not made easily and, while negotiations continue, we look forward to a timely resolution.”

The NZNO was holding out for better pay and safe staffing.

“We want enough nurses to deliver care every day, every shift,” McLaren said.

“There are days when we leave thinking, ‘thank God nothing bad happened’”.

“Nurses might be rostered to work until 11pm and be asked to stay till 3am,” Roberts said.

“Staff are tired,” Beech said.

The delegates said the work environment had become more complex, with an ageing and growing population. Patients were often unwell with multiple needs.

The NZNO had asked for a 17 per cent pay rise, well above what their members at all levels had been offered.

Some of the annualised increases offered to date were only about $1200 before tax, about $18 a week. The delegates said that in the past few years, pay had not risen in line with inflation.

“We’re not even keeping up with the cost of living,” McLaren said.

“We are paying more for our food, electricity, rates, and everything

After the strike, the delegates expected to go back to the negotiating table. They said if pay increases offered were still too low, striking again would be an option.

Most of Wairarapa’s 300 NZNO members had joined the strike, with many of those not participating being rostered on night duty or on life-preserving services.

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