Work­force ten­sions at ‘pres­sure point’

The Press - - National News - Libby Wil­son

Phys­io­ther­a­pists in Waikato are the lat­est work­ers to sig­nal strike ac­tion as a wave of in­dus­trial ac­tion sweeps across the coun­try.

While some claim the un­rest is sim­ply a re­ac­tion to a change in Gov­ern­ment, a man­age­ment ex­pert be­lieves a more likely ex­pla­na­tion is that sim­mer­ing ten­sions have hit a tip­ping point. In the past few months, groups in­clud­ing teach­ers, nurses, court staff, mid­wives, bus driv­ers, anaes­thetic tech­ni­cians and tomato grow­ers have planned to or have gone on strike.

For se­nior phys­io­ther­a­pist Nikki Laker, the up­com­ing strike will be her first in 21 years with the Waikato District Health Board.

The APEX union del­e­gate and 57 frus­trated col­leagues plan to walk off the job for 24 hours later this month. ‘‘The only rea­son ... is to ac­tu­ally try and get [a pay] of­fer on the ta­ble,’’ said Laker, who works in pae­di­atrics.

‘‘[The DHB has] of­fered us noth­ing. They’ve said: we’ll get back to you. We’ve been wait­ing since April,’’ Laker said.

The two par­ties will go into me­di­a­tion be­fore the strike on Novem­ber 19 and Waikato DHB says it is ‘‘hope­ful of a res­o­lu­tion’’.

The clus­ter of strikes was not a co­in­ci­dence, Massey Univer­sity man­age­ment school Pro­fes­sor Jim Ar­row­smith said.

It had been sim­mer­ing over a decade of low wage growth and ris­ing hous­ing costs, as em­ploy­ees felt they were work­ing hard and still strug­gling to pay bills.

‘‘The more cyn­i­cal and su­per­fi­cial per­spec­tive is that we’ve had a change of gov­ern­ment and all of these or­gan­ised work­ers are try­ing it on or try­ing to lever­age bar­gain­ing. At one level, that’s a fair com­ment. But there’s noth­ing to say that this wouldn’t be hap­pen­ing if Na­tional were in charge too, be­cause I think these prob­lems are longer-term but also acute now.

‘‘We’re com­ing to a pres­sure point.’’ It was also about work­ing con­di­tions, he said.

‘‘It’s the wage-ef­fort bar­gain ... It’s about pay in re­la­tion to what’s be­ing asked of you.’’

Teach­ers may have a big­ger class or more tech­nol­ogy to deal with, he said, or a ra­dio­g­ra­pher may be do­ing more mam­mo­grams.

Strikes in those pub­lic sec­tors are more com­mon, he said, be­cause work­ers are gen­er­ally unionised, more likely to be in full­time, per­ma­nent roles, and the strikes can have a ‘‘high dis­rup­tive im­pact’’.

In the Waikato phys­io­ther­a­pists’ case, they haven’t had a writ­ten pay of­fer since their col­lec­tive con­tract ex­pired in April.

That’s de­spite two meet­ings with the health board, as rep­re­sen­ta­tives said they didn’t have au­thor­ity to make an of­fer, Laker said.

There were phys­ios on every ward of Waikato Hos­pi­tal, she said, and they did things such as get pa­tients up and mov­ing again af­ter an op­er­a­tion, re­ha­bil­i­tate peo­ple af­ter strokes, help peo­ple with breath­ing, and treat out­pa­tients with com­plex mus­cle pains and strains. They were hard to re­cruit, and one se­nior po­si­tion was re­cently va­cant for more than a year, she said.

When the pay of­fer comes, Laker hopes it will be sim­i­lar to what nurses re­cently achieved – nurses ac­cepted three pay in­creases of 3 per cent, along with two new steps at the top of the pay scale.

APEX has 58 phys­io­ther­a­pist mem­bers at Waikato DHB, most work­ing at the Waikato Hos­pi­tal cam­pus.

‘‘We are hope­ful of a res­o­lu­tion,’’ a health board state­ment said, ‘‘but are work­ing on con­tin­gency plans in case we have to de­fer any out­pa­tient ap­point­ments.’’

The health board said it could not com­ment on why a pay of­fer had not been made, and whether those meet­ing APEX mem­bers had au­thor­ity to make an of­fer.

The phys­io­ther­a­pists plan to strike for 24 hours from 7am, Mon­day, Novem­ber 19, un­less an agree­ment is reached be­fore then.

‘‘These prob­lems are longer-term but also acute now.’’ Pro­fes­sor Jim Ar­row­smith

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