Surplus funds will not be used to bump up nurses’ offer

The AM Show 11/07/2018

After rejecting the latest pay offer from their district health board employers, nurses have confirmed that they will go on strike on Thursday.

Up to 30,000 Nurses' Organisation members could be involved in the strike on July 12, which will mark the first nurses’ strike in nearly 30 years.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson told The AM Show that facilitation between the Nurses’ Organisation and the DHBs is taking place “as we speak”.

I have to balance the books here.

“We remain hopeful that that can come up with a deal that everyone can agree to. But we are preparing for the strike to take place.”

Mr Robertson confirmed that negotiations are focused on whether the offer can be “re-organised” because there is no more money on the table.

But host Duncan Garner was not convinced, and asked why the Government can’t just add more money to the offer to ensure there’s no strike.

“Bear in mind, Duncan, that we doubled the offer that was on the table when we came into office. It’s worth half a billion dollars, this offer. It adds 500 nurses. It puts a pathway towards a pay equity settlement on the table.

“I have to balance the books here. I have a lot of other competing needs to look out for,” Mr Robertson said.

The first strike planned for 5 July was called off after the DHBs made a revised offer. But nurses have voted to strike on Thursday after declining the offer.

The latest offer includes a December 2019 date for any pay equity payments to come into effect. It also includes $38 million in new funding for DHBs to immediately start hiring around 500 new nurses to address lack of staff.

New Zealand nurses start on $49,499 and under the proposed deal that would be increased to $50,932. Nurses get a pay increase every year from there, subject to good performance, and then earn $67,000 after five years. The rejected deal offered a new top salary of $77,386, and senior nurses could earn up to $77,386.

On Tuesday, Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters said the Government doesn't have the money to increase the nurses’ pay offer.

"We haven't been joking when we told the nurses via the media that this is our best offer," Mr Peters said in a news conference.

But with a surplus of nearly $1 billion ahead of expectations, some wonder why the Government is unwilling to use its funds to bump up the nurses’ package.

Mr Robertson told The AM Show that surpluses are necessary for a rainy day and allow the Government to ensure they can invest in big infrastructure projects.

Hundreds of surgeries and appointments that haven't already been moved will be shifted to prepare for the 24-hour nurses strike on Thursday.

Watch the full interview with Grant Robertson above.

The AM Show with Duncan Garner, Amanda Gillies and Mark Richardson, weekdays 6-9am on RadioLIVE and streaming live to the rova app on Android and iPhone.