Nurses strike after rejecting DHB pay offer

By Moana Makapelu Lee

Demonstrations are taking place nationwide as nurses call for additional funding and staff to stop the exodus of New Zealand nurses from the country.

30,000 nurses across Aotearoa are walking off the job today.

Protests began at 7am this morning and are expected to end at the same time on Friday morning.

Cee Payne of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation says, "There are some immediate issues around safety in our hospitals and our government has made an investment of around $38mil.  Nurses are telling us that that's not enough.  I think the problem is that we've got lots of vacancies."

More than 70 demonstrations are taking place nationwide with 10,000 nurses on duty for the next 24 hours.  Nurses say the staffing crisis needs to be fixed immediately.

Payne says, "People talk about wages but actually it's about staffing and the staffing crisis can only, in part, be solved by actually paying nurses properly."

Wellington Hospital staff nurse Mel Anderson says nurses are working extra shifts under exhaustion and often without breaks. 

Just this month two nurses from her ward left for Australia.

"We're worth more than what the government's offering and we deserve a bigger pay rise and we deserve safe staffing.

"Often we're struggling to find staff to cover the next shift and we spend maybe up to two hours trying..."

Payne says "We can't keep our young nurses in New Zealand, we can't attract our young nurses back from Australia.  We need to turn that around- we need to stop the exodus of nurses from New Zealand when we train them."

This week Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters expressed his disappointment that nurses rejected the DHB's pay offer, which included 500 extra nurses to address staffing issues.

Payne says although she understands the difficulties for the government after years of under-funding in the public health system, nurses need to be heard.

"Nurses have been quiet, tolerant, patient for a long time.  We know that the government wants a quality public health system and I know it's difficult.  We will need some additional funding to resolve this dispute."

The union will continue negotiations with DHBs.