Delays could lead to strikes - junior doctors

Junior doctors say district health boards (DHBs) are courting further strike action by consistently delaying negotiations and failing to respond to their compromises.

But DHBs say the junior doctors are not helping the situation with the threat of strike action and by asking for an unaffordable deal as the dispute over pay and staffing levels drags on.

The junior doctors say negotiations last week were frustrating as DHBs showed little response to their amended claims.

The New Zealand Resident Doctors Association (NZRDA) represents more than 2000 junior doctors employed by 21 district health boards. They walked off the job in May over their claim for an almost 10 percent pay increase for each of the next three years.

The NZRDA says the cost of hiring locums to fill the significant number of vacant junior doctor positions has soared. It estimated up to $100 million would be spent nationally on locums and the costs of the workforce crisis in 2008.

NZRDA general secretary Deborah Powell said that despite the doctors making a definitive change in their claims, DHBs made an almost non-existent change in the return offer.

The doctors' original 10 percent claim had dropped to a 5 percent per annum pay rise for four years for a contract that would run through to April 2011.

DHBs have offered 8.68 percent effective from August 11 and a 5 percent lump sum on base salary effective from August 10.

There were increases to additional duty rates for nights only to $75 for house officers and $100 for registrars.

Dr Powell said DHBs were still only effectively offering a 4.25 percent per annum pay rise over two years, and had come back with effectively no change to their existing offer during negotiations.

"The frustration and delay the DHBs have imposed on this process will no longer be tolerated by junior doctors. It is time for the DHBs to prioritise this negotiation," she said.

But David Meates, chief executive of Wairarapa DHB and lead negotiator, said an unaffordable claim would not improve working conditions for junior doctors or patients.

"Their new position still equates to over 7 percent a year which is unaffordable and well beyond other settlements in the health sector," he said.

Mr Meates said it would be irresponsible for DHBs to agree to a claim in excess of any other health settlement.

"What message would that send to the other 57,000 employees and unions who have worked with DHBs to agree cooperative and forward looking settlements and partnership agreements?"

Mr Meates said it was disappointing that DHBs were again being forced into a position of having to negotiate under the threat of further industrial action.

He said DHBs were spending more on locums than they would like, but the latest figures showed that just $25m was spent on locums and he had no idea where the union's $100m figure came from.

The parties will meet again in the last week of August.

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