Service undervalued: delegate

Those behind the health service used by a third of people in the last year are being undervalued, a New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) delegate says.

The delegate, who did not wish to be named, took part in the telehealth workers’ strike which ended on Monday — the second strike in three weeks.

They were among about 300 NZNO and Public Service Association workers nationally pushing for a pay rise from employer Whakarongorau Aotearoa, the National Telehealth Service provider.

Healthline was the best known service, but there were many others giving advice on all kinds of health issues, the delegate said.

"There are a lot of people in New Zealand who do rely on our services. There are a lot of New Zealanders who don’t want to present unnecessarily to an emergency department."

There was never a break between calls where no-one was waiting for help.

While it varied depending on the issue, the average number of calls they would take in an hour was about four or five.

"I guess some people might think, ‘well you’re just on the phone’ — it’s actually a lot when you’re helping someone."

Callers were sometimes very scared, especially in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic when telehealth boomed.

"We were really there for those people, and we’re still there for people now."

It was "quite upsetting" to have to push for pay to keep up with inflation after working so hard during that time.

Workers ranged from nurses, paramedics and mental health clinicians to administrative and other staff.

"There are many people in our organisation who are really struggling to make their rent payments and mortgage payments ... [the] cost of living has gone up and our pay has not."

Despite the problems with the job, it was a rewarding way to help people, the delegate said.

NZNO delegate Bruce Tomlinson said last week mediation had not resulted in a decent wage offer.

"While there were some good improvements on offer for some workers, this ultimately did not materialise.

"This strike is really about the workers getting paid a fair wage.

"Quite frankly we’re asking for a cost-of-living increase, but their new offer is not even close to that."

Whakarongorau chief of employee experience officer Anna Campbell said last week the latest offer lifted minimum rates for many.

In the last 12 months one in three New Zealanders used one or more Whakarongorau-run services.

It aimed to pay as much as possible, and had invested surplus money in things such as IT and contact centre improvements and developing new programmes.

Whakarongorau had joined with other health organisations to lobby the government regarding pay parity for telehealth nurses, she said.