Lab staff worried about work hours

Staff at the Awanui labs in Dunedin. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Staff at the Awanui labs in Dunedin. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Significant breaches of contracted work hours have been revealed as Awanui Labs undertakes restructuring in Invercargill.

A consultation document recently obtained by the Otago Daily Times detailed multiple concerns about workers’ conditions at the health system’s Southern laboratory service provider.

Awanui Labs said consultation was carried out to improve staffing and feedback was taken on board, but Apex union has slammed proposed changes as creating turmoil and sidelining workers’ concerns.

The Awanui consultation feedback document said some people expressed concern about their ability to work under the proposed changes, which included increasing the number of people available to work after hours.

"Staff expressed reservations, citing challenges related to childcare and family arrangements."

As a hospital laboratory providing a 24/7 service, it was "essential" to have a sustainable roster, so individual needs could not always be met, the document said.

With the right staffing model, efforts would be made to reduce weekend work and eliminate rostered 12-day shifts.

Current patient service rosters were flagged as an issue.

They contained "significant breaches of hours of work clause in the collective agreement".

Unsafe shift patterns were also a concern, as was staff training and increasing reliance on technicians to perform tasks traditionally done by scientists.

There was a risk of "multiple staff resignations" and additional funding was needed to bring Awanui into step with public sector pay rates, the feedback document said.

Apex union associate Sammy Heimsath said Invercargill had been dealing with "huge" vacancy rates.

"They have filled some of those positions, but even now they're still being trained up to go on to night shifts.

"There's a lot of very tired people down there experiencing huge amounts of fatigue and as a result of the pervading recruitment and retention issues that they've been having, they have decided to undertake a restructure."

Consultation processes tended to benefit businesses rather than workers;the Invercargill one was no different.

"We have people calling us every day talking about how they won't be able to undertake the new roles under the potential restructure.

"It's madness for a lot of people's lives."

Workers’ concerns did not seem to be the priority, and the turmoil was only going to get worse.

The most tried and true method for Awanui to create positive patient outcomes was investing in its workforce, Mr Heimsath said.

Awanui Labs South Island general manager Andrea Guillemot said the consultation was carried out to improve staffing for the Invercargill laboratory team.

"There is no reduction of staff numbers and no services will be leaving the region as a result of the consultation.

"We recognise any proposed changes can be unsettling and uncertain for the staff involved and have appreciated their engagement and patience through this process," she said.

Responding to specific concerns contained in the document, she said technicians could perform work where they were deemed competent.

All scientific and technical positions in the laboratory had now been filled and rostering was done with staff input.

"With more staff able to work the after-hours roster as proposed in the consultation, the rostering will be compliant with the collective agreement hours-of-work clause."

All feedback was taken on board, she said.

"It has allowed us to create an outcome with support and input from our Invercargill team.

"The consultation is now complete and changes to occur as a result will be additional staff working during the after-hours roster to support the teams working these shifts."

Staff would be trained to work across several departments to transition the Invercargill laboratory to become a core laboratory, she said.

It was the same style of laboratory Awanui used in other regional labs.