Employed midwives are striking for two hours, twice a day, over a two-week period through to 5 December. In all, 540 strike notices have been issued by MERAS, the midwives’ union, to the 20 DHBs.
The strike follows the DHBs’ rejection yesterday of a proposal that had been put forward by MERAS, in urgent mediation last Wednesday, in an attempt resolve the long-running pay dispute.
However, most MERAS members who are rostered on duty will be at work during the strikes, providing “life preserving services” (LPS) – see explanation of LPS on page two.
Midwifery Co-leader, Caroline Conroy, says strikes cannot go ahead if the safety of women and their babies is compromised as a result. But the fact that some DHBs have requested more midwives than would normally be rostered on duty, highlights the severe under-staffing in maternity units around the country.
“The union is being asked to find members willing to fill gaps in rosters. It is not the purpose of LPS to fix staffing shortages,” Caroline Conroy says.
Caroline Conroy says the extent of life preserving services having to be provided by MERAS members, reinforces the union’s position that as health professionals, midwives’ work is highly skilled, with a significant level of responsibility, and therefore midwives should be paid accordingly.
MERAS Industrial Co-leader, Jill Ovens, says the DHBs and the Ministry of Health are holding their position that MERAS members should accept the nurses’ pay scales, agreed as a result of a negotiation into which the bulk of midwives employed by DHBs and represented by MERAS had no part.
“Midwives and Nurses are health professionals and key members of a team that works hard to deliver the best outcomes for women and their babies. A decision by members of MERAS not to accept a DHB pay offer has nothing to do with being worth more, less or the same as nurses. We have a different code of practice, different expertise and have a different history to nurses. Other health professionals like physiotherapists and occupational therapists have pay differentials that reflect their qualifications, level of responsibility and scope of practice. Why shouldn’t midwives have their pay rates set in the same way?”
Jill Ovens says MERAS has been told that the same workforce must have exactly the same pay and conditions, regardless of union coverage. Yet just last week, she says, “the DHBs concluded a settlement with one group of resident doctors that is not the same as that of the majority of resident doctors covered by a different union. That makes a mockery of their argument.”
Ms Ovens adds that everyone who is a health professional in this country deserves to be paid fairly for the work, qualifications and experience they have; and employed midwives (DHB midwives) – the majority of whom MERAS represents – are no different.