Interview: The New Democrat
Bad Boss: The Ugly Australian
Unions: Free Spirits and Slaves
Industrial: National Focus
History: A Class Act
International: Across the Ditch
Economics: Home Truths
Review: No Time Like Tomorrow
Poetry: Silent Note
The Locker Room
Last Year´┐Żs Model
Across the Ditch
By Lyndy McIntyre
Laila Harr´┐Ż is heading up the NZ campaign to win pay equity for nurses and says victory is in sight at last.
"After many years of campaigning for fair pay, underpaid nurses and midwives sense they are on the last leg of a long struggle to win recognition of their value in their pay packets," she said.
"Over the next few months we expect to win, in national negotiations, the historic pay settlement generations of New Zealand nurses have worked for."
A landslide "yes" vote in a national ballot of NZ Nurses Organisation members employed in public hospitals conducted last month has given the green light for national negotiations.
NZNO members overwhelmingly backed a return to national bargaining after 13 years of enterprise bargaining with local health board has failed to bring nurses' pay in line with other state sector workers with similar skills, effort and responsibility.
When the negotiations for 20,000 NZNO members begin in late June it will be the first national pay negotiations for public hospital nurses in 13 years.
NZNO will be claiming a jump in nurses' pay to match teachers and police. This means lifting nurses' rates over 20-25%.
Nurses in New Zealand, with a three year degree qualification and an average $20,000 student debt, are on starting rates of about $33,000.
Average penal rates for unsociable hours increase this to $37,700. Nurses hit the top of the basic pay scale at a median rate of $44,500.
This compares to teachers, who can climb to over $56,000 and police constables, who hit the top of their scale at $69,000 (including shift allowances and superannuation).
Laila Harr´┐Ż said NZ rates lag behind other similar countries as well, including many Australian nurses and NZ hospitals are in crisis with understaffed wards around the country.
"With the average age of nurses in their mid-forties, it's very clear that nursing is no longer an attractive career option for young New Zealand women. Our public health system can no longer rely on smart young women volunteering for a career when they have many other options with better pay and better workloads," she said.
Nurses are determined that Fair Pay will not come at the expense of staffing levels. The campaign has focused on the twin goals of a fair pay settlement and the establishment of staffing levels that are safe for patients and nurses.
Laila Harr´┐Ż said the time was right for nurses in NZ to win.
"We have strong public support, a government committed to pay equity and most importantly an organised membership, united around the Fair Pay campaign," she said.
Harr´┐Ż is well qualified to lead nurses to pay equity victory. Prior to taking a leadership role with NZNO, as a former Minister of Women's Affairs and Associate Minister of Labour, Harr´┐Ż was responsible for bringing 12 weeks paid parental leave into NZ law.
Harr´┐Ż was then a member of the Labour/Alliance coalition government and was later Leader of the left wing Alliance party.
She has brought to NZNO a strong track record and commitment to activism in unions, politics and women's work issues.
"Nurses' activism is the heart of this campaign," she said.
"We will win Fair pay because nurses have increased their activism and united around a goal which is about fairness."
The results of that increased activism has been a highly visible campaign within hospitals and on the streets, as NZNO members have built confidence in their campaign and moved to join forces in national bargaining.
Formal bargaining begins in a few weeks. The pay equity settlement which is the campaign goal will require significant extra government funding for health board employers.
NZNO members are confident the strong public and political focus of the campaign, and the industrial unity in national negotiations will make 2004 the year of the nurse in New Zealand.
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