Ministry move threatens pay talks, says junior doctors' union

A Health Ministry independent commission into the pay and employment of junior doctors further threatens pay negotiations, the doctors' union says.

Ministry director-general Stephen McKernan announced the commission yesterday, saying it was suggested by District Health Boards (DHBs) as a way to help find a settlement.

Resident Doctors Association (NZRDA) national secretary Deborah Powell was not prepared to see it as a way forward.

"This does nothing to further progress negotiations," Dr Powell said.

The determination of pay and conditions was by law only completed through the bargaining process between the union and DHBs, she said.

If the Health Minister or his ministry wanted to help then they should get involved in the actual bargaining process, she said.

Junior doctors and the district health boards have been involved in a long-running dispute over pay.

More than 2000 junior doctors walked off the job in May, over their claim for a 10 percent pay increase each year for the next three years.

But the DHBs have so far not budged from a 4.25 percent increase for last year and this year.

NZRDA would welcome both the ministry and minister to the bargaining table, Dr Powell said.

"In the last five years we have experienced no less than five committees under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health concerning our workforce.

"They have achieved nothing. NZRDA is concerned that the creation of another committee will completely undermine the bargaining, and afford the DHBs the opportunity to bypass NZRDA and stall resolution yet again."

Mr McKernan said the ministry would fund the commission, provide secretariat support and consult with the NZRDA, DHBs and other stakeholders.

"The aim is to look at the junior doctor workforce and provide independent and evidence-based recommendations on how hospitals employ and pay them."

He expected to announce the terms of reference for the commission by the end of the month.

Junior doctors are registered medical practitioners, and range in experience from first year qualified doctors to those with more than 12 years' experience.

They work almost exclusively in the public sector, and are employed by all 12 DHBs.

DHBs this week announced that non-union and new employees would be offered pay rises of just over 8.5 percent for one year.

Dr Powell said that the "provocative" pay offer to new employees and non-union doctors could lead to more industrial action by junior doctors.

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