Nurses take to streets in fight for better deal
The colour purple is flying high in Liverpool St, while the air is filled with the sound of car horns, tooting in support of local nurses who are fighting for a better pay and staffing levels. That was the scene on Wednesday and Leanne Larmer, union delegate for the NZ Nurses Organisation, said they were trying to get the message across to their District Health Board employers that they have had enough of being understaffed and poorly paid. After a public sector pay freeze was announced by the Government in May this year, with restrictions preventing pay rises for those who earn more than $100,000 per year, and limiting pay rises for people earning between $60,000 and $100,000, the DHB nurses have been offered a 1.3 per cent pay rise. Larmer said that while there had been mention of demanding a 17 per cent pay increase, she believes the DHB and nurses need to meet somewhere in the middle and be aiming for something similar to what teachers received in 2019. That year, after a hard-fought battle that included strikes, primary school teachers achieved an average pay increase of 12.5 per cent. One of the big issues for the Levinbased DHB nurses is that they always seem to be understaffed. “Our FTE [full time equivalent] nurses don’t match the patient ratios we have . . . a lot of our nurses work double shifts or extra hours or pick up extra days on their days off,” said Larmer. One of the many reasons the union is fighting for better wages is to try to retain qualified nurses in NZ. Horowhenua Community Practice gets a lot of young trainee nurses from UCOL doing their practical placements, who then move further afield for better pay and work conditions, with most heading overseas. This is particularly concerning in the Horowhenua because, as Larmer pointed out, the majority of the nursing staff on strike on Wednesday are in the 50-plus age bracket. “Our nurses today are doing this for the nurses of the future.” A couple of the mental health nurses on strike worked late on Tuesday and made contact with all their clients to make sure none were impacted by Wednesday’s event. “We’re doing this for all public service workers,” one said, “especially those who can’t go on strike for fairer conditions, like the police.” The ward staff said it was hard to strike, to walk away from their patients, but they jammed eight hours of work into four hours before heading out at 11am. And the afternoon shift would do the same when the protest finished. Larmer said three union members stayed to help on the wards, with one of the morning shift protesters and two of the afternoon shift protesters on call to ensure “life-preserving” facilities were available for patients. Among the nurses waving purple flags and placards were other staff and patients supporting their cause. One of the hospital cooks said he loves their nurses and wanted to help them fight for better pay and conditions. The group also had strong support from recently retired NZNO union organiser Lyn Olsthoorn, who spent 30 years “fighting the good fight” for New Zealand nurses. “I really can’t resist a good protest,” Olsthoorn said. She also said it was great that nurses are no longer afraid to make their fight for fairness public.