Back to talks as 24-hour strike ends

Nurses march outside Dunedin Hospital as part of their 24-hour strike. Photos: Gerard O'Brien.
Nurses march outside Dunedin Hospital as part of their 24-hour strike. Photos: Gerard O'Brien.
Talks are set to resume between nurses and district health boards, as the arm-wrestle over the collective employment contract continues.

A 24-hour strike ended at 7am today after hundreds of nurses and healthcare workers across the southern region made their voices heard yesterday with noisy protests.

Nurses are holding out for a greater pay increase and faster progress on hiring more nurses to alleviate what they say are chronic staff shortages.

Dunedin Hospital nurses who walked off the job at 7am were greeted by colleagues for a march around the hospital complex.

Throughout the day, noisy rallies and marches were staged, at times involving several hundred nurses and supporters.

Protests were also staged in Invercargill.

Southland strike organiser Celeste Crawford said plans to increase staffing levels were not immediate enough.

"We want to bring public awareness about the under-funding of the health care system throughout New Zealand," she said.

"Our concerns are really around the short staffing on the wards that cause issues around safe workloads and safety for patients."

The Southern District Health Board reported no serious issues due to the strike.

Staff members had "gone the extra mile", and family of patients in hospital had also provided additional support, SDHB chief executive Chris Fleming said.

"We have been seeing fewer than usual presentations in our emergency departments but are slightly busier than expected in areas of critical care, including ICU and the high dependency unit at Dunedin Hospital and critical care unit at Southland Hospital."

Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters' message to striking nurses was that the offer on the table was a "serious" one but as good as it would get, The New Zealand Herald reported.

"We have made a serious offer to the nurses with respect to both funding, to career advancement and also help with respect to 500 extra nurses. That's our offer and that's the maximum we can afford."

National Party health spokesman Michael Woodhouse said Mr Peters' repeated public statements that there was no more money was "kicking the hornet's nest".

"To do that through the media is a pretty inflammatory response when the nurses are saying `let's continue to talk'."

He said it was a generous offer, but rejected the Government's claims that it was because of the need to make up for lower increases under National's nine years in power.

Dunedin nurse Craig Christensen makes his point during protests yesterday.
Dunedin nurse Craig Christensen makes his point during protests yesterday.

Dunedin NZNO organiser Lorraine Lobb said members had been out in force yesterday, supported by the public.

"Some have been here all day and will probably stay all day, while others have come when they could ... a lot of these people are due back tomorrow and they will have a busy day."

Dunedin registered theatre nurse Craig Christensen said he went on strike because nurses were not being listened to.

"We thought, after rejecting the first pay offer, it was a bit of a kick in the teeth for the next offer to be worse for probably 70% of the nurses," he said.

"They have put more money in to extra staffing, but the number of extra nurses that we need is considerably more than what they have budgeted for ... 500 just isn't enough."

DHBs spokeswoman Helen Mason said the organisations were considering recommendations made by the co-ordinator of facilitation talks between themselves and the NZNO, and would contact the union to discuss what to do next.

- Additional reporting by Sanda Jukic.

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