Allied health workers in the Bay of Plenty are “disheartened and angry” after their strike action, planned for today, was scuppered by a court injunction.
The injunction, lodged by the District Health Board on Tuesday, was upheld by the Employment Court yesterday.
Members of the Public Service Association, that represents 10,000 health workers, voted in favour of strike action last week, after 16 months of failed negotiations over higher pay, equal treatment with other health professions, and action on safe staffing and retention.
The industrial action would have seen workers, from 70 professions, stop work for 24 hours from 6am Friday. In the Bay of Plenty up to 450 workers were planning to strike.
The court ruled the strikes were illegal because they related to equal pay negotiations, not to current pay talks.
It said strikes would have put pressure on hospital staff and patients and set down facilitation between the two parties for next week.
Bay of Plenty DHB executive director allied health, scientific and technical and contingency planner Sarah Mitchell says Tauranga and Whakatāne hospitals will try to resume “business-as-usual" and staff will work their regular shifts today.
On Tuesday, the DHB announced its plan if the strike were to go ahead. This included rescheduling non-medical outpatient appointments and no planned care in the hospitals’ theatres, with only emergency theatres operating throughout.
Mitchell says they had a list of patients on standby and some planned care surgery will be undertaken today, with patients coming in at short notice.
As for the outpatients' appointments, the DHB will try to contact patients and undertake telehealth appointments or re-arrange them, she says.
Bay of Plenty District Health Board PSA delegate Rachel says workers were feeling “disheartened and angry” and were seeing how undervalued they were by their DHBs.
Rachel told Local Democracy Reporting allied health staff “get on with the work” because they were passionate about their professions.
“It's been taken advantage of now, for far too long.
"DHBs are at risk. At risk of losing more staff and at risk of staff burning out.”
She says DHBs couldn't hold on to allied health staff because of low pay and high workloads.
“They can go into private sector and get better pay and better working conditions.
“The motto of the BOPDHB is to have healthy, thriving communities.
“Whereas, perhaps if we had been remunerated more appropriately, we might be healthy, thriving workers.”
DHB spokesperson Keriana Brooking says DHBs welcomed the court’s ruling.
“Omicron is putting extraordinary pressure on DHBs and the focus of the whole system should be on caring for patients,” says Brooking.
Facilitated negotiations will take place between the union and the DHBs on March 7 and 8.
PSA organiser Will Matthews says, "We expect the DHBs to do the right thing and come to the table with a decent offer.
"Our members would not forget they have a right to fair pay and equal treatment and are resolute in their goal of reaching a fair deal."
Brooking says, “The PSA has told us pay equity was the real concern of its members – that’s a completely separate process and our aim is to settle these pay talks so we can concentrate on that.”