Practice nurse pay talks under way: Urgent meeting sought with minister

Article updated to add comment from Green Cross Health. See comment below
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Practice nurse pay talks under way: Urgent meeting sought with minister

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Auckland fair pay nurse strike placards 9 Nov 2020
The basic pay gap between an experienced DHB hospital nurse and a practice nurse has grown to $3.86 per hour

The pay parity question is, obviously, significant and critical to the MECA but is also critical across the primary care sector and for general practice regardless of whether they are MECA parties or not

An urgent meeting is being sought with health minister Andrew Little over funding the growing gap between practice nurses and their DHB colleagues.

The meeting is being sought by the NZMA and New Zealand Nurses Organisation after pay talks resumed for a new primary health care multi-employer collective agreement (primary care MECA).

NZMA chief executive Lesley Clarke says the NZMA is seeking the joint meeting with NZNO on behalf of all general practice nurses – not just MECA nurses. The association is employer representative for 502 practices signed up to the talks, the other main employer advocate being Green Cross.

“The pay parity question is, obviously, significant and critical to the MECA but is also critical across the primary care sector and for general practice, regardless of whether they are MECA parties or not,” says Ms Clarke.

Pay gap grew once more

Many of the about 3200 nurses and administration staff working at the 500 plus practices covered by the primary care MECA took strike action last year over closing the pay parity gap.

The resulting pay deal drew practice nurses closer to pay parity with the DHB MECA nurses by the adding a new pay step 6 – one step less than the DHB MECA’s seven-step basic pay scale.

But the recent NZNO DHB nursing MECA agreement saw the pay gap widen once again, with DHB nurse pay rates going up across the board by about $5800 a year. The $400 million pay package included early “down payments” of the DHB nurse pay equity settlement due to be settled by the end of this month.

Pay gap table

BASE PAY SCALES

NZNO PHC MECA

1 Sept 2020

NZNO DHB MECA

6 Sept 2021**

Step 1 (new grad)

$26.14

$59,834 ($28.68)#

Step 2

$27.56

$64,291 ($30.82)

Step 3

$29.84

$67,938 ($32.57)

Step 4

$31.74

$71,452 ($34.25)

Step 5

$34.96

$78,745 ($37.75

Step 6

$36.02*

$80,932 ($38.80)

Step 7

--

$83,186 ($39.88)

*NZNO 2020-2021 PHC MECA step 6 came into effect on 1 Feb 2021

**NZNO 2020-2022 DHB MECA new pay rates includes an early instalment of the DHB nurse pay equity settlement

Note: To convert the DHB MECA salary into an hourly rate, it is divided by 2086

Pay gap ‘most significant’

NZNO industrial advisor Chris Wilson told MECA members in an email update today was it was evident from the outset that the pay parity gap was “the most significant it has ever been”.

The gap between an experienced nurse at the top of the primary care MECA scale and their equivalent DHB colleague is $3.86 an hour.

Ms Wilson says in the update that all employer representatives confirmed they support the principle of pay parity.

“And that it is very important in order to keep primary health care services sustainable from a recruitment and retention point of view,” she wrote.

Ms Wilson says additional funding will “definitely be required to bridge this gap”, which had led to the call for the urgent meeting with the minister to discuss a pay parity briefing paper.

Pay parity issue wider than general practice

NZNO kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku says it will take a lot to get parity “across the line”.

“But we can’t forget that during COVID [practice nurses] did a magnificent job and they continue to do so.”

Ms Nuku says she hopes the health reforms will lead to legislation and expectations that services providers will pay nurses equally, including residential aged care, where she says there are about 1400 nurse vacancies, and nurses working for Māori and iwi health providers.

Controversy over last MECA

The last primary care MECA saw the Ministry of Health and DHBs agree to lump=sum fund the new pay step 6 from 1 Feb 2021 to 30 June 2021 for primary care MECA nurses only.

The ministry and DHB told MECA negotiators that the capitation funding increase from 1 July should accommodate the cost of the new pay step going forward but would in “good faith” address any pay deal shortfall.

NZMA and GenPro have questioned the Crown’s interpretation that the labour cost index increase component in this year’s 2.78 per cent capitation increase reflected the costs of the new deal.

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