Nurses Organisation U-turns on pay equity agreement, Health Minister says – Stuff

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation has U-turned on its agreement with the Government to put a negotiated pay-equity settlement to its members for a vote, Health Minister Andrew Little says.
The agreement would add more than $520 million, each year, to the health payroll, Little said. Since 2018, DHBs have been negotiating to improve pay for nurses, who they agree have been underpaid due to discrimination against female-dominated professions.
“Cabinet has released the money, and we are ready to pay nurses properly for the work they do,” Little said.
The deal was released on Friday and was scheduled to be put to a vote after the Easter break. But on Monday, it became apparent the NZNO had concerns. Its boss, Paul Goulter, announced he had commissioned a “full legal review” of the deal before it would be released for a vote, and said the lack of back pay was a major issue.
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Little told reporters, on Thursday morning, that he’d been told the NZNO had decided not to put the agreement to a vote.
He said the back pay the NZNO had asked for would add “hundreds of millions of dollars on top of the agreement already”.
And he urged the NZNO to “stick to their agreement” and let nurses vote on the pay equity deal. He said its decision was surprising, and also a breach of the negotiations’ conditions – which he said required that the NZNO put this agreement to a vote.
“I have to say, as a former union leader involved in negotiating settlements, it is very unusual for a union to re-litigate terms of settlement that they have already signed up to,” he said.
The NZNO’s legal review was scheduled to be completed by Thursday, and Little said he understood its finding had resulted in the organisation’s decision not to hold a vote.
“Last night, I was notified that the Nurses Organisation would not now do this,” Little said on Thursday morning.
“Obviously I am concerned about this. There is a binding agreement in place between the parties, and it should be honoured.”
The NZNO is yet to respond to Stuff’s request for comment.
Instead of back pay, nurses would receive a lump sum payment of up to $3000 as “recognition of past work”.
NZNO members have already received a down-payment of $6000, and up to a further $1000 in November last year, which brought the total to $10,000. The payments were only made to NZNO or PSA members.
Little said the Government would not agree to reimburse “decades of underpayment”.
“But we have committed effort, time and resources to negotiating a settlement that lifts nurses pay to a level where we can no longer say they are subject to sex-based discrimination,” he said.
On Monday, Goulter issued a statement criticising the deal. He started as NZNO boss in February and said the deal was negotiated before his time.
“These negotiations took place before my appointment as chief executive, and I was not party to them. However, it appears something is not right,” he said.
The lack of back pay in the deal, and the inclusion of only DHB nurses and healthcare workers, had been criticised by some nurses.
Waitematā District Health Board nurse practitioner Jane Key earlier told Stuff that nurses were disappointed with the deal, having expected significantly more back pay.
“We were promised back pay, and we didn’t get it. We got $3000, which sucks – people were expecting $20,000 to $30,000,” she said.
Multiple DHB nurses have told Stuff they thought the deal would include back pay, going back to the start of 2020.
Goulter said the new DHB pay rates were welcome, but criticised the back pay issue and said the deal should apply outside DHBs, to primary healthcare, Māori health providers and aged care.
He said he had become aware of “significant dissatisfaction” with the deal since becoming NZNO chief executive.
The settlement, revealed last Friday, comes after years of protests and pay negotiations, fighting to get rid of the gender pay gap.
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