Cunliffe stalls doctors' strike

Strike action by senior doctors has been averted for another month after Health Minister David Cunliffe stepped into negotiations at the last minute.

Mr Cunliffe said he would be facilitating a meeting between senior doctors and district health boards to work towards an early settlement of their current dispute.

The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) and district health boards have been in negotiations for 19 months with the two parties unable to break an impasse in negotiations.

ASMS executive director Ian Powell said Mr Cunliffe's offer of direct intervention was ‘‘unprecedented''. He said negotiations with the DHBs were bitter.

‘‘We were on the brink of issuing notice of industrial action following the strong vote by senior doctors for industrial action in the national ballot.

‘‘For years, health ministers have stated that they did not get involved in industrial negotiations. Any involvement has been indirect and secretive.

‘‘It is a high political risk for him,'' Mr Powell said. He said the impasse was due to the serious senior doctor workforce crisis, in which a major factor was the far superior salaries and other work conditions in Australia.

David Meates, the lead chief executive for the health boards' employment relations, said the 21 health boards welcomed the opportunity to keep an open dialogue with the senior doctors.

‘‘DHBs want to resolve the differences and are always ready to meet and explore all options,'' Mr Meates said.

However, he said he ‘‘totally disagreed'' that the boards had not worked together effectively and said the boards had a common strategy and position and put a ‘‘substantial offer'' on the table.

The two parties have long argued about how much the specialists are paid, with the DHBs saying a ‘‘typical senior doctor'' earns close to $200,000 a year and the union saying the true figure is more like $150,000.

ASMS is seeking a base salary increase of about 10% over two years, with support for further education and better conditions for callouts.

The ASMS will meet again on March 25 to assess whether Mr Cunliffe's intervention was successful. - with NZPA

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